ABA Supports Proposed Pennsylvania Racial Justice Act

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 4, 2010—_ President Carolyn B. Lamm expressed strong support for the proposed Racial Justice Act, House Bill 1996, addressing sentencing in capital cases pending in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, in a letter to Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. G. Ronald Waters, chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.  In adopting the bill, Pennsylvania would lead “the way toward a death penalty system free from bias and injustice,” said Lamm.

The ABA sponsored a comprehensive assessment of Pennsylvania’s capital punishment system in 2006-07, in which a team of legal experts from across the commonwealth “was alarmed at the remarkable role that race appeared to play in who is sentenced to death in the Commonwealth,” noted Lamm.  The assessment team recommended a series of steps “for Pennsylvania to fully determine the extent to which race affects the outcome of capital cases, and to remedy the instances in which discrimination played a role in an individual capital case.”  H.B. 1996 would prohibit seeking a death sentence, or require that any death sentence imposed at trial be vacated and the defendant resentenced, if a court found that race was a significant factor in decisions to seek or impose a sentence of death.  Lamm’s letter, accessible here, notes the ABA urges states and the federal government to adopt legislation to allow challenges to death sentences when, absent a successful rebuttal, there is a valid showing of a substantial disparity in the imposition of death sentences that is statistically explicable only by reference to the race of the crime victim or the offender.

With nearly 400,000 members, the _ is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.  As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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