Automatic review of death sentence next step in criminal defense

On behalf of Applebaum & Associates posted in Criminal Defense on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Recently, it took a Pennsylvania jury just short of eight hours to determine that a 22-year-old man deserved the death penalty for the murder of a 4-year-old girl. His criminal defense attorney believed that enough mitigating circumstances existed to keep the death penalty from being imposed. Perhaps this could be a factor in the automatic review of the man’s death sentence by the state Supreme Court, which will most likely take place despite the fact that a moratorium on death sentences imposed by Governor Wolf is still in effect.

In 2013, a woman, who was five-and-a-half months pregnant, and her 4-year-old daughter were killed. The evidence suggested that the young girl was forced to watch her mother being stabbed before she was killed. This was said to be a large part of the reason that the man accused of killing them received the death penalty for the child’s death.

The man received a life sentence for the stabbing death of the mother. A pathologist who testified at the sentencing reported that one of the knife strikes went into her pregnant belly. The bodies were also set on fire. He received additional time for the death of the unborn child, burning the bodies and possessing an instrument of crime.

In order for a death sentence to be imposed in Pennsylvania, the prosecution must prove certain elements to the court beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal defense counsel can make an argument that certain mitigating circumstances exist that would not warrant the death penalty, but the court will not necessarily agree. If an accused receives the death penalty, those mitigating circumstances may be addressed again during an automatic review of the case that is done in order to ensure that the penalty was properly imposed.

Source: CBS News, “Marcel Johnson, Pennsylvania man, sentenced to death for the 2013 murder of women, child“, June 10, 2015

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