PDAA Defends Constitutionality of Death Penalty

July 16, 2019

Harrisburg, PA — Pennsylvania’s death penalty statute meets constitutional standards by appropriately channeling the discretion of prosecutors and sentencing authorities. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association made the following statement today after filing an amicus brief in the case of Commonwealth vs. Marinelli:

“The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association filed this brief to urge sober application of long-established principles of statutory interpretation, constitutional analysis and to respect the role of the legislative branch of government in establishing law.

Additionally, the brief emphasizes the findings of a 2017 study by Penn State University researchers for the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness, which found there is no racial bias in prosecutors’ decisions or against defendants who receive death penalty sentences. The findings of that report are in direct contrast to the racial-bias narrative pushed by anti-death penalty advocates.

Pennsylvania’s death penalty procedures constitutionally direct and limit imposition of the ultimate punishment. The law limits the number of cases eligible for the death penalty, limits the discretion the sentencing judge or jury has in imposing a sentence and ensures that sentences meet all constitutional standards.

The death penalty is sought in rare instances and only when the facts of a case meet the narrowest requirements by law.  Rightly so, a jury, judge and the decades-long gauntlet of the appellate system, examine every case exhaustively.

No district attorney takes pleasure in pursuing a death penalty case.  Prosecutors must and do make those decisions based on the facts of the case, the ethical structure of our profession and the understanding that the death penalty is reserved for only the worst of the worst murderers as defined by law, such as:

  • Jacob Sullivan, who was convicted of the kidnapping, raping, killing, dismembering, and disposing of his girlfriend’s adopted child, Grace Packer in 2019;
  • Raghunandan Yandamuri, who was convicted of invading a home and killing Satayrathi Venna, by slitting her throat, and suffocating to death her 10-month old grandaughter, Saanvi Venna, in 2012;
  • Eric Frein, who was convicted of assassinating one state trooper, seriously injuring another and terrorizing two counties for weeks before he was captured after a massive manhunt in 2014.”

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Contact: Lindsay Vaughan, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association lvaughan@pdaa.org or (717) 238-5416.