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Are Felony Murder Sentences Unconstitutional? Case Takes Aim at Pennsylvania Law

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Feb 16, 2021 | 0 Comments

In Pennsylvania and many states, did you know that you can go to jail for murder even if you didn't kill or even intend to hurt anyone? If someone dies during the commission of a felony, anyone involved in that crime can face felony murder charges, even if they had no intent to kill. In Pennsylvania, a felony murder conviction also means there is no possibility of parole. For many people in Pennsylvania, the felony murder rule is effectively a life sentence.

Now, a lawsuit brought by six Pennsylvania prisoners aims to challenge the constitutionality of the law. The Abolitionist Law Center, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Amistad Law Project, is suing the state on behalf of six prisoners convicted of felony murder in their late teens and serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Their case argues that the punishment for felony murder in Pennsylvania is a “cruel punishment” prohibited under Pennsylvania law and the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Felony Murder in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, felony murder is a second-degree murder charge: “A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the second degree when it is committed while defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.” See Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2502(b) (1974). The sentence for a conviction for felony murder is life in prison without the possibility of parole. See Pa. Stat. Ann. § 1102(b) (2012).

The pending lawsuit hopes to change the law by forcing the parole board to hold hearings for second-degree murder convictions and push the Pennsylvania legislature to change the state's criminal code. NPR reports that 70% of the people serving life in prison for felony murder are black, while only 11% of Pennsylvania's population is black. The attorneys in the lawsuit hope that their suit will also bring awareness to the racial disparity in Pennsylvania's criminal justice system.

Right now, the only way for those serving life in prison to leave jail before they die is to obtain clemency from the governor. However, even if the state pardon board votes to recommend clemency to the governor, there's no guarantee the state will grant it. A man waiting for clemency died in January of this year. Even though the pardon board recommended clemency, he died waiting for the governor to sign it. In 2020, the state pardons board recommended 570 applications for pardons or commutation of life sentences to the governor. The Pennsylvania governor granted only 125 of these applications.

Hire an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

If you're facing a felony criminal charge in Pennsylvania, particularly felony murder, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney. The stakes are high, and your freedom and future are obviously at risk. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience in the Pennsylvania criminal justice system and litigating high-stakes criminal cases. He can fight for you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 215-535-5353 to discuss your options.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations – the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website.  In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Northampton County.  In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County,  In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties.  Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law.  The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship.  The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.

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