PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday on the state’s death penalty, asserting that the statute violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the state constitution.
The justices, of course, had many questions and factors to consider.
The seven-judge panel posed several queries like: What exactly is cruel punishment — the carrying out of the penalty of death or a system that imposes death arbitrarily?
Is it even appropriate for the court to exercise jurisdiction in cases where there is no record at issue? Or should the court appoint a special master to review death penalty data within its own records?
Attorney Tim Kane from the Federal Community Defender Office represents petitioners Jermont Coz and Kevin Marinella, two inmates on death row.
He argued the capital sentence in Pennsylvania is so flawed that it’s unconstitutional, leaving arbitrary factors — like race, poverty, geography, and a broken court-appointed counsel system — to control whether death is imposed.
Kane sited a commissioned report detailing flaws in the system. An attorney for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office put forth its own Philadelphia-specific death penalty data, revealing that cases are overturned 72 percent of the time. It also found that the vast majority of those sentenced to death were black and poor.
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Both argued that the state Supreme Court should use its King’s Bench jurisdiction to strike down the death penalty.
But the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General argued that remedies, like appeals, already exist to deal with disparities in the death penalty, and the parameters of the capital punishment should be left up to lawmakers.
The death penalty has not been executed in Pennsylvania in the last two decades.
There’s no word yet on when or how the court will rule.