A legal brief filed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is asking the court to declare the death penalty a violation of Pennsylvania's state constitution. The person filing it, though, raises eyebrows: it is Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.
Pennsylvania High Court to Hear Appeals from Two Death Row Inmates
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is set to hear appeals from two people currently on death row:
- Jermont Cox, who was convicted in 1993 on three counts of first-degree murder
- Kevin Marinelli, who was convicted in 1995 on first-degree murder charges stemming from a burglary that got violent
The core argument in these appeals is that Pennsylvania's death penalty constitutes one of the “cruel punishments” that is prohibited by Article I, § 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The Difference Between State and Federal Rights
The U.S. Supreme Court has already determined that capital punishment does not violate the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.”
However, that case, Gregg v. Georgia, only implicated the federal constitution. The federal constitution is only the baseline for civil rights. States are free to interpret their own constitutions – even if those state constitutions use the same language as the federal one does – to provide more extensive civil rights.
That is the decision that is currently before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Whether to protect people from the death penalty by extending the Pennsylvania Constitution's prohibition of “cruel punishments” to include the death penalty.
Philadelphia's Head Prosecutor Claims Death Penalty is Unconstitutional
In these cases, district attorneys and prosecutors often fight against the inmate in court. They usually argue that the inmate deserves to be put to death for the heinous crimes they committed and that society would benefit from killing them.
Larry Krasner, however, has taken the other side. He has filed a legal brief with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, urging the court to rule the death penalty unconstitutional. It is only the latest of many unconventional moves that Krasner has taken since becoming Philadelphia's chief prosecutor. He has also pushed his lawyers to lean heavily on jail alternatives in their sentencing demands and to rein back drug crime and gun crime investigations.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has filed a countering motion, urging the judges on the Supreme Court to deny the appeal and uphold capital punishment in Pennsylvania. In his brief, Shapiro argues that this should not be a decision that judges should get to decide. Instead, he would put it up to the state legislature to overturn Pennsylvania's death penalty, rather than declare it unconstitutional.
Criminal Defense in Philadelphia with Joseph D. Lento
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who serves the accused in Philadelphia. Taking the death penalty off the table would be a huge success for anyone who has been charged with a crime in the state, as it would prevent prosecutors from using it as a threat to coerce defendants into pleading guilty.
Call attorney Lento at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online if you've been charged with a crime.