Skip to Content

Schnader’s Hon. Timothy Lewis Offers Counsel to Governor Wolf in Preparation for Moratorium on the Death Penalty in Pennsylvania

On February 13, 2015 by Schnader in News

On February 13, 2015, Governor Tom Wolf announced a Moratorium on the Death Penalty in Pennsylvania. The moratorium will remain in effect until the governor has received and reviewed a forthcoming report of the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission on Capital Punishment.  

“Numerous recent studies have called into question the accuracy, and fundamental fairness of Pennsylvania’s capital sentencing system. These studies suggest that inherent biases affect the makeup of death row,” said Governor Wolf in his announcement. “If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is going to take the irrevocable step of executing a human being, its capital sentencing system must be infallible.”

During the process of formulating this decision, Governor Wolf’s transition team sought the counsel of Schnader’s Timothy K. Lewis to discern and develop the elements of the moratorium. Judge Lewis, with Schnader attorney Bradly A. Nankerville, were honored to be a part of the team that helped craft this historic shift in the administration of the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

Judge Lewis notes his work in helping to develop the moratorium in his statement of support, below. In addition, fellow former judge and current Schnader attorney Robert J. Cindrich offered a statement of support, as well.

Statement of the Honorable Timothy K. Lewis, former United States Court of Appeals Judge for the Third Circuit

“I am a former assistant district attorney, assistant United States attorney, United States district court judge and United States circuit court judge. I was appointed a federal prosecutor by a Republican attorney general, and I was appointed to the federal bench twice by a Republican president. Since I left the bench, I have been Counsel at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, where I have remained active in ensuring the fair and effective enforcement of state and federal law and policy.

In December 2014, I was contacted by then Governor-elect Wolf’s transition team and asked to prepare an objective legal analysis of a Pennsylvania governor’s constitutional authority to impose a moratorium on the death penalty pending a thorough review of its administration. In January 2015, I submitted my analysis to the Governor-elect.

“I concluded that Pennsylvania law requires the governor to issue execution warrants; that the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article IV, Section 9(a), gives the governor exclusive authority and wide discretion to grant reprieves; that this reprieve power is the only constitutional basis for instituting a moratorium; that the governor could not grant either standing or future reprieves; and that, accordingly, a Pennsylvania governor may implement a moratorium only by first issuing execution warrants and then granting reprieves.

“In summary, I concluded that if a governor believed it would be in the interests of the Commonwealth to issue a moratorium by granting reprieves for the purpose of studying the fairness and effectiveness of the administration of the death penalty, this would be a proper exercise of his or her authority under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

“This was my objective legal analysis. It was not informed in any way by my own views.  But as a personal matter, I fully support Governor Wolf’s announcement today.

“I do so as a former prosecutor who believes in the most severe punishment for the most heinous offenses. I do so as a former judge who presided over an execution and saw first-hand the many serious problems – institutional, economic, and human – with the enforcement of the death penalty. And I do so as a Pennsylvania citizen acutely aware that our resources should no longer be wasted on a system so broken.

“At a minimum, we must take a step back to examine the effectiveness of a system fraught with racial disparity, constant reversals, and the infinite warehousing of prisoners who await a punishment that hasn’t been imposed in our State in 15 years – some of whom we know, based on exonerations here and elsewhere, may well be innocent.

“A civilized society, effective law enforcement and the honor of our Commonwealth require no less.”

Statement of the Honorable Robert J. Cindrich, former United States District Court Judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania,

“I am a former assistant public defender, assistant district attorney, United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania and a federal district judge.  I have both prosecuted and defended death penalty cases as a public official and a private attorney.

“I applaud Governor Wolf for his decision to impose a moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty in Pennsylvania. He joins other governors from across the nation, both Democrats and Republicans, in giving serious and fully warranted consideration of the efficacy and fairness of the present criminal justice process resulting in the sentences of death to so many in our state and across the country.

“His action is based on objective evidence that calls into serious question whether the death penalty is disproportionally imposed on people of color, the poor and others without the economic means to mount a proper defense as demanded by federal constitutional guaranties of due process of law.

“He is wise to await the outcome of the deliberations of Sen. Greenleaf’s Committee, which has been conducting a serious and in depth study of death penalty in Pennsylvania for some years now before allowing even one more person to be executed. While that study may provide us with more definitive information to inform future decisions, there is clearly enough evidence now to warrant his action. In Pennsylvania, there is evidence of extreme racial disparity in the imposition of the death sentence. Though African Americans comprise just 11% of the population, they comprise two thirds of the people on death row. The Innocence Project has demonstrated that numerous people, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have both been wrongfully sentenced to die and even wrongfully executed. Over 60% of all of the death sentences imposed in Pennsylvania since 1978 and today have been reversed by state or federal courts, an unacceptably high degree of error.

“The Governor is right because the death of a person is not something that can be undone. He is right because moral issues aside, the cost to the public of pursing the execution of citizens is far too high as weighed against any perceived public benefit. He is right because there is no empirical evidence demonstrating that the death penalty has any discernible effect on the incidence of murder or crimes of violence and in fact, there is evidence to the contrary.

 

“The Governor’s decision is based on considerable objective evidence that a minimum, demands a pause in executions pending more definitive studies to fully inform us.”