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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Morganelli: Why Wolf's Death Penalty "Moratorium" Will Fail

I admire elected officials who actually stand up for their beliefs, even if it costs them votes. Too many of them, especially among our State Representatives, are unwilling to speak up for their districts. They're unwilling to do anything without checking and then double-checking with their party bosses. But from time to time, you run into an elected official who actually has the courage of his convictions. Ron Angle is one example. Another is NorCo DA John Morganelli.

Let me make clear that, unlike John, I oppose the death penalty. I believe all choices against life are wrong. But I admire Morganelli for advocating his position forcefully. In 1994, it was this little known DA who, against all odds, successfully sued then Governor Robert Casey to enforce Pennsylvania's death penalty. He paid a price politically, but followed his conscience.

Below, he explains why Governor Tm Wolf's moratorium, which really isn't a moratorium at all, must fail.

Governor Wolf did not impose a “moratorium” on Pennsylvania’s death penalty. He has no such authority and he knows that. The Governor was properly advised by Judge Timothy K. Lewis, former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge, that there exists no authority in the Office of Pennsylvania Governor to declare a moratorium or suspend the death penalty. What the Governor did was to grant a “reprieve” to one death row inmate who was scheduled for an imminent execution. The granting of a “reprieve” is one of the Governor’s powers with respect to clemency in Article IV, Section 9(a) of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The other two are the power to “commute” a death sentence to life and to grant a “pardon.” The latter two, however, cannot be exercised by the Governor unless recommended by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. With respect to commuting a death sentence to life, the recommendation must be unanimous.

Under Pennsylvania law, the issuance of execution warrants by the executive branch is a mandatory duty. That precedent was established in Morganelli v. Casey, a case I brought in 1994 against then Governor Robert Casey. Today, the governor is given 90 days to sign a death warrant after receiving the case from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If the governor does not sign the execution warrant, the execution date must be set by the Department of Corrections and the execution proceeds without the governor’s signature. Accordingly, Judge Lewis advised the Governor that executions must proceed and that the use of the “reprieve” power was the only constitutional basis for creating a de facto moratorium. The Governor has stated that he will grant “reprieves” for subsequent scheduled executions for each death row inmate at least until the release of an impending study being done by a task force established by the legislature.

The Governor’s objective is unlikely to succeed. In Morganelli v. Casey, the court held that a “reprieve” exists only to afford an individual defendant the opportunity to temporarily postpone an execution for a particular proceeding involving that defendant – i.e. a pending application for a pardon, commutation or judicial relief. It is unlikely that a court will allow a governor to grant “reprieves” based on a governor’s concern about the fairness of the process or the release of a report that has no legal significance. If this was permitted, it would in effect allow a governor to commute death sentences to life bypassing The Board of Pardons in contravention of Article IV of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Only the legislature has the power to repeal the death penalty and only the judiciary has the power to suspend the death penalty or declare it null and void as unconstitutional or in violation of due process. Pennsylvania’s death penalty was deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court many years ago in the case of Blystone, and, therefore, the Governor will not be able to derail Pennsylvania’s death penalty by continuously granting “reprieves” in individual cases. As someone who has personally litigated these issues, I predict that ultimately the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will find the Governor’s action outside of the intended purpose and scope of a “reprieve.”

In Philadelphia, DA Seth Williams has already challenged Wolf's decision in court.  Williams' challenge will likely be dismissed. As Morganelli observes, the Governor is really only granting reprieves, something he has the legal authority to do.


Anonymous said...

Informative post, Bernie. I am also against the death penalty, but a string believer that the laws must be followed.

Anonymous said...

strong, that is

Kevin Cerino said...

What a bunch of BS.

For all intents and purposes, PA does not really have a death penalty. Sure, the law in on the books and people are sentenced, but that sentence is rarely carried out.

There are currently 186 individuals on death row in PA. But the Commonwealth hasn't carried out an execution since 1999. Many of these murderers were sentenced in the 1980's. Only three people have been executed in PA since the capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

In 2014 Texas executed 10 people. Why is the capital punishment actually carried out in Texas and other states but not in Pennsylvania? Because PA law allows for a virtually endless appeals process that makes the death penalty a de facto life sentence.

John Morganelli knows this. But he is happy sending people to death row knowing that the chance the sentence ever being carried out is very slim. Has Mr. Morganelli ever tried to push the General Assembly to change the appeals process so that the death penalty is actually carried out?

I know that Mr. Morganelli has cared enough about such issues such as his opposition to ending the state's monopoly on retail liquor sales that he actually traveled all the way to Harrisburg to hold a press conference. What I would like to know is why Mr. Morganelli, who professes to be a proponent of capital punishment, hasn't lifted a finger to change the system which essentially prohibits the carrying out of the death penalty.

Anonymous said...

I wonder whether the governor embarked upon this course of action in order to "stir up the pot" so as to encourage a move toward elimination of the death penalty in Pennsylvania? I would like to see it go the way of the public hanging and the guillotine. What the murderer did was wrong. Who are we, the people, to murder him in turn? We get ourselves smeared with the same mud in our revenge on him. And, this is not the stance of the bleeding heart -- I think that when all the endless appeals are done, the state spends more $$$ than it would by putting these murderers away for life without possibility of parole, and no cell phones, no cosmetic surgery, no sex changes, just plain old incarceration for life, with a useful job around the prison and lots of time on his hands to repent.

Anonymous said...

What is Jim Gregory's position on John Morganelli's position?

Anonymous said...

Gregory's position is most likely bent over a metal bed.

the truth be told said...

jm is nothing but the puppet master in bethlum. he has reached his peter principle - will never be AG or anything else than the self serving wannabee that he is. only bo and bd care for his foolish rants

T Marshall said...

ride the state of these worthless people by harvesting their organs for needy people or use them for product testing. at least then we'll get something out of the money we pay for their existence

Anonymous said...

@Kevin "In 2014 Texas executed 10 people. Why is the capital punishment actually carried out in Texas and other states but not in Pennsylvania? Because PA law allows for a virtually endless appeals process that makes the death penalty a de facto life sentence."

Yeah, why are these people given the right to appeal before we kill them? What the hell? Just snuff them out and be done with it. And if we make a mistake and kill a few innocent people - hey that's part of the cost of legal murder.

If you research the death penalty in the US, you will find quite a potpourri of states with moratoriums, haven't killed someone in years, don't kill people, and then there is your role model Texas and the southwestern states. They're killing people like mad down there.

The disparity between states reveals that not everyone believes the state should be sponsoring killing of human beings. I always thought PA was more progressive than the likes of Alabama, Mississippi, and the like. Heck, even Tennessee and North Carolina aren't snuffing people's lives out at the moment.

Anonymous said...

This would be comical if it wasn't. Don't forget these two are in bed together and nothing is changing here that the average person cares about. Pa is de facto not a death penalty state but this move allows Wolfe to appear to be making bold changes and appeases his base right away. It also allows Morganelli and Williams to appear tough on crime when nothing is going to change no matter who wins. An added bonus is that they all appear to be doing the right thing rather than following the party line.

Sadly there actually is something at stake here that most people don't understand. Officially ending the death penalty would end the requirement of a "death qualified jury."

A death qualified jury is a jury made up of citizens who are unopposed to the death penalty. Being as Pa is technically a death penalty state, prosecutors are permitted to demand the death qualified jury although the death penalty will never actually take place. Honestly admitting that you are against the death penalty will disqualify you as a juror in a DP case.

Officially ending the DP would remove this requirement and result in juries pools that actually represent a cross section of our society.

Nolan Paul said...

I am against the death penalty and wish it would be outlawed in all 50 states. It is expensive and nowhere near the deterrent that some people think it is. The constant appeals cost money and overwork our already swamped courts. That being said, I do respect Morganelli's stance and argument on this.

Anonymous said...

Man, Morganelli has a blood thirst! That's a bit unsettling.

Anonymous said...

I miss Joe Long

Anonymous said...

Johnny "Look at me, look at me" Morganelli forgets to mention how you can find all the murderers he convicted (or mostly his ADA's that he takes all the credit for) that have been executed in the Commonwealth.

Close your eyes to see them all--NONE!!! That is all pre-Wolf.

Hey Johhny, your as always so full of it your eyes are brown!!! Get back to being a media whore!!! We have not heard from you in 18 seconds!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Hate much? You are most likely smearing Morganelli bc he is prosecuting you. Either that, or you are one of those trolls who personally attacks people when you disagree, and without ever saying who you are. But we all know. You're a coward.

Unlike most DAs, Morganelli can and does try cases, including murder cases. At last count, it was over 20. In fact, he is the lead prosecutor in the Graf case.

He is there at 8 am and is there on weekends. You can call him a lot of things, but the notion that he does not work or lets his assistants do everything, is just a lie. Posted by a weekend troll.

Anonymous said...

He is just a bit too into the death penalty tho. He lost my vote with that diatribe.