Death Penalty

The Bill of Rights specifically protects against “cruel and unusual punishment.” The death penalty is the ultimate denial of civil liberties, and the ACLU is committed in its opposition to this cruel and unusual punishment.

Chester v. Wetzel

On September 11, 2014, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, on behalf of four newspapers, including the Guardian,the Philadelphia Inquirer,the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Philadelphia City Paper, asked a federal judge to unseal court records that contain information about the source of the drugs used for lethal injections in Pennsylvania. 

Why Oppose the Death Penalty?

  • Innocent people are being sentenced to death. In the past 30 years, 139 inmates were found to be innocent and released from death row, including six in Pennsylvania. The most recent exonerated inmate in PA is Harold Wilson of Philadelphia who was acquitted at retrial on November 15, 2005. Harold spent 16 years on Pennsylvania's death row.
  • Almost all people on death row could not afford to hire an attorney. The quality of legal representation is a better predictor of whether or not someone will be sentenced to death than the facts of the crime.
  • Race often plays a role in determining a capital sentence, in multiple ways. First, over 80% of capital cases involve white victims, even though nationally, only 50% of murder victims are white. Second, Pennsylvania's death row has the dubious distinction of having the highest minority population in the country at nearly 70 percent, among states with at least ten people on death row. Finally, for years, the Philadelphia District Attorney's office has trained its prosecutors on how to strike minority jurors during jury selection, despite a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled it unconstitutional to strike jurors solely on the basis of race.
  • Where a death sentence is sought often determines whether a defendant is sentenced to death more than the circumstances of the crime.


Legal Cases

  • Inquirer v. Wetzel
    State refuses to allow press full access to view executions
  • Chester v. Wetzel
    A motion asking the judge in Chester v. Wetzel to unseal court documents so that the source of the state's lethal injection drugs would be public
  • Commonwealth v. Williams
    Amicus brief filed on behalf of the NAACP, the Jewish Social Policy Network, and several other organizations in support of Gov. Tom Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty
  • Asali v. Trump
    On January 28, 2017, the Asali families – four adults and two children – landed at the Philadelphia airport on a flight from Qatar after receiving immigrant visas authorizing them to move to the United States. They planned to settle in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where U.S.– based family had purchased a home for them.
  • Reid et al. v. Wetzel
    A lawsuit challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ policy of housing inmates sentenced to death in solitary confinement
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