I recently saw a question posted online inquiring whether or not the death penalty was still legal in the U.S. Not only is the death penalty legal, Pennsylvania was prepared to execute its first inmate 13 in years before a stay was issued by a Pennsylvania court.
I find it somewhat ironic that Centre County, home of Penn State University and commonly referred to as "Happy Valley," is the location of executions in Pennsylvania. Next to State College, in Bellefonte, is the State Correctional Facility known as Rockview, and Rockview once housed the electric chair and now houses the lethal injection chamber.
The execution was stayed by the Federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, and the case was remanded to the district court for consideration of some of the inmate's arguments.
Is the Death Penalty Legal in the United States
The U.S. Supreme Court has generally held that death penalty does not constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" under the U.S. Constitution, which means that the death penalty in legal in the U.S. While the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the death penalty, not all states agree. According to online reports, 13 states do not have a death penalty law and thereby do not execute inmates. Of the 37 states that do have the death penalty, the methods used in two states (Nebraska and New York) have been held by the courts in those states to violate the state constitutions. Therefore, while those states have a death penalty law, there is not legal means through which to execute inmates, so, in practical terms, those states do not have a viable death penalty statute. In many states, the death penalty has not been used for quite a long period of time, but, in other states, the death penalty is alive and well.
Pennsylvania Death Penalty Cases - First Degree Murder
In Pennsylvania, only criminal defendants convicted of first degree murder face the death penalty. If a person is charged with first degree murder, the district attorney decided during the pretrial phase whether or not to seek the death penalty if the criminal defendant is convicted. If the district attorney decides to seek the death penalty, the ultimate decision as to whether a convicted murderer gets the death penalty or life in prison is made by the jury. Aside from first degree murder cases, the jury generally does not determine the sentence to be imposed. Instead, in all other cases, the penalty or sentence is determined by the judge. During a criminal trial, the jury is actually not permitted to be informed as to the possible range of sentences that could be imposed if the jury convicted the criminal defendant of the various charges.
Criminal defense lawyers that provide representation in death penalty cases must go through additional legal training in order to be death penalty certified. In Centre County, only a few State College criminal defense attorneys are death penalty certified. Being responsible for someone's very life is an extreme responsibility and not one to be taken lightly.