The Pennsylvania Supreme Court [official website] on Monday upheld [opinion, PDF] the authority of Governor Tom Wolf [official website] to postpone executions in the commonwealth. The unanimous decision came after Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams petitioned [JURIST report] the court to reject reprieves as an unconstitutional intrusion of state executive power into the realm of the legislature and courts. Concerned with the death penalty, Wolf used reprieves to postpone the execution of five convicted killers. In their decision, the justices stated that the governor’s power to grant reprieves does not require a specific end date or purpose. Wolf has stated that the moratorium will remain in place until he receives a report from a legislative commission in 2016.
Use of the death penalty [JURIST news archive] has been a controversial issue throughout the US and internationally. In October the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously granted [JURIST report] a request from Attorney General Scott Pruitt to halt all of the state’s scheduled executions to allow for an investigation into why the prison received incorrect lethal injection drugs. Oklahoma became the epicenter [JURIST report] of the lethal injection drug debate last year after the death of Clayton Lockett, a death row inmate who died of an apparent heart attack minutes after doctors called off a failed attempt to execute him. In June the US Supreme Court held that the use of the drug midazolam may be used in executions [JURIST report] without violating the constitution. In April the Tennessee Supreme Court postponed the execution [JURIST report] of four inmates on death row while it determines whether current protocols are constitutional, effectively halting all executions in the state. Also in April the Delaware Senate voted to repeal the death penalty [JURIST report], but the legislation includes an exemption for the 15 inmates currently on death row.