Pennsylvania HB 1996, the Racial Justice Act will be introduced next week. The act recognizes that race has been shown to a factor in many capital cases. In fact, prosecutors in Philadelphia were trained on ways to eliminate racial minorities from juries in death penalty eligible cases. There's even a videotape detailing ways to avoid the appearance of racism in striking potential jurors. Jack McMahon, former Philly prosecutor, even explains why it's important to keep blacks from serving on juries.
HB 1996 isn't a Get Out of Jail Free card by any means. It simply allows an individual sentenced to death the opportunity to bring evidence of racial discrimination in front of a judge. The burden of proof is on the person appealing the sentencing phase of the trial. If the judge finds that race was a factor in that individual being sentenced to death, he or she may commute the sentence of death to a sentence of life in prison without parole. In Pennsylvania, a life sentence really is a life sentence and an individual sentenced to life will die in prison.
HB 1996 will be considered after the legislature comes back in session in March. Now would be a good time to call your PA House Representative and express your support for HB 1996 and request that he or she become a co-sponsor.
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