The wording of House Resolution 143 calls Governor Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty unconstitutional. The action taken by the governor was a moratorium on executions until a study is complete. Wolf has not disregarded the constitution; rather, the governor has taken a conservative action as to avoid error.
I’m unafraid to point out the hypocrisy of opposing an essentially conservative action by the governor which respects life and seeks to examine the effectiveness of the system that metes out death — as was called for in Furman v. Georgia and reaffirmed (though grudgingly) in Gregg v. Georgia.
Gregg put in place procedural restrictions and the study will examine if the death penalty in Pennsylvania in fact is meeting the standards set by the Supreme Court in 1976 for its use. This was after executions were found to constitute cruel and unusual punishment, only four years earlier. Case discussion of Gregg v. Georgia states, “The concerns expressed in Furman that the death penalty not be imposed arbitrarily or capriciously can be met by a carefully drafted statute that ensures that the sentencing authority is given adequate information and guidance, concerns best met by a system that provides for a bifurcated proceeding at which the sentencing authority is apprised of the information relevant to the imposition of sentence and provided with standards to guide its use of that information. Pp. 188-195.” (https://www.law.cornell.edu/
It is not unreasonable, in light of recent multiple exonerations and evidence of arbitrary or biased sentencing that the governor should ask for a review of how the death penalty is being used and to hold off killing anyone meanwhile. This is not rash nor does it disregard the commonwealth’s constitution. Wolf has the high ground here.
Marlene Lang, Ph.D. candidate