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.
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.