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Court: Pennsylvania Governor Has Power to Enact Moratorium on Executions

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday upheld Gov. Tom Wolf's moratorium on executions in the commonwealth, affirming that the governor has the constitutional authority to grant reprieves to inmates on death row.

By Matthew Santoni

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday upheld Gov. Tom Wolf's moratorium on executions in the commonwealth, affirming that the governor has the constitutional authority to grant reprieves to inmates on death row.

The case before the court concerned Terrance Williams, convicted of beating a man to death with a tire iron in 1984. With Williams' appeals exhausted, Gov. Tom Corbett scheduled his execution for March 4. Wolf granted him a reprieve Feb. 13 pending an overdue report and recommendations from the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment.

Wolf said he would use his constitutional power to grant reprieves to any inmate scheduled for execution, effectively putting a hold on all executions until the report addresses his concerns that Pennsylvania's capital punishment was too expensive and ineffective.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams challenged the governor's decision days later, saying that if he intended to halt all executions with reprieves, he was overstepping his constitutional powers.

The Supreme Court unanimously sided with Wolf, though Justice Correale F. Stevens noted in a concurrent opinion that the decision should not encourage or validate the governor's nullification of existing, valid state laws.

In the 37 years since Pennsylvania reinstated the death penalty, only three people have been executed -- and they volunteered, waiving their rights to appeal.

(c)2015 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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