As a criminal defense attorney, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I have worked with clients who have been charged with capital murder. The penalties for capital murder are quite severe – from jail time to execution. In this article, I will define capital murder, explain the classifications of murder, the differences between capital murder and first-degree murder, capital punishment statistics, and method of execution.

What is Capital Murder in Pennsylvania?

Murder is the unlawful killing of another person without justification and is considered to be the most serious crime a person can commit. Murdering is seen as a most heinous crime, even when considering other murders. Because of this, the perpetrator may be sentenced to death in Pennsylvania.

What are the Classifications of Murder in Pennsylvania?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania groups the crime of murder into several classifications, which depend on the specific circumstances of the crime.

First-degree murder. This is the most serious crime someone can commit in Pennsylvania because the punishment for a first-degree conviction is either death or mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole. First-degree Murder is defined as a criminal homicide when the killing of another human being is intentional. Intentional homicide is killing by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing. If someone planned to kill another and does so, then it is premeditated.

Second-degree murder. When committed while the defendant was engaged as a principal or accomplice in the commission of a felony is as second-dree murder. Second-degree murder is punished by mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole. If someone plans to rob a bank or a convenience store and a killing is committed in the course of the robbery, then it is second-degree murder.

Third-degree murder. Third-gree murder is all other kinds of murder and is punishable as a felony of the first degree carrying a penalty of ten to twenty years in prison. If someone shoots another, killing that person, and it was not planned or intended or committed in the course of a felony, it is a third-degree murder.

What are the Differences Between Capital Murder and First Degree Murder in Pennsylvania?

Capital murder is a murder for which the perpetrator may be sentenced to capital punishment, which is the death penalty. First-degree murder is considered capital murder, though capital murder is not always first-degree murder. The reasoning behind this is that there are other crimes which are eligible for capital punishment, such as a murder committed during the course a felony crime.

The classification of capital murder or first-degree murder in Pennsylvania include:

  • Premeditated and deliberate. The perpetrator intended to kill the victim and had time to plan and consider the aftereffects.
  • Killing during the commission of a felony. The person may be charged with murder if someone was killed during the commission of felony crime, even if he is not the one who killed the victim. This is also called “felony murder,” and generally requires that death was a foreseeable result of the initial crime.
  • Motive – the person had a good motive for killing the victim.
  • Special Circumstances – How the murder was committed, who was murdered, and special circumstances that make the perpetrator of the murder eligible for capital punishment include:
    • Killing through lying in wait
    • Killing committed by poison, beheading, or torture
    • Killing combined with a violent felony, such as sexual assault
    • Intentional killing of a child
    • Killing of more than one person

What are the Capital Punishment Statistics in Pennsylvania?

From the time the Commonwealth enacted its current death penalty statute in September 1978 through 2015, Pennsylvania had sentenced 408 prisoners to death. Of those, 191 had subsequently been resentenced to life or less or released (46.8%), including 169 resentenced to life (41.4%); 16 resentenced to a term of years (3.9%), and 6 exonerated (1.5%). 181 remained on death row (44.4%), including 28 whose convictions or death sentences had been overturned but who were awaiting further court proceedings. 33 had died on death row other than by execution (8.1%).  3 had been executed (0.7%).

CNN offers a look at the death penalty statistics in the United States.

As of August 2017, capital punishment is legal in 31 US states.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 20 people were executed in the United States in 2016, the lowest number since 1991. The number of death sentences imposed was 30, a 39% decline from 2015’s 40-year low.
There were 2,902 people on death row in the United States on October 1, 2016, the most recent date for which data is available.
Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by the US Supreme Court, 1,458 people have been executed (as of July 28, 2017).
Since 1973, there have been 159 death row exonerations (as of April 19, 2017). Twenty-seven of them are from the state of Florida.Between January 1, 2017 and July 28, 2017, 16 executions were carried out in seven states, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Federal Government: 
The US government and US military have 61 people awaiting execution. (As of July 25, 2017)
The US government has executed four people since 1963.
There are 54 women on death row in the United States (as of October 1, 2016).
Sixteen women have been executed since the reinstatement of the death penalty (as of October 1, 2016).
Twenty-two individuals were executed between 1985 and 2003 for crimes committed as juveniles.

What a Method Used in Executions in Pennsylvania?

Lethal injection is the sole method of execution per the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

Method of execution.

(a)  Injection.–

(1)  The death penalty shall be inflicted by injecting the convict with a continuous intravenous administration of a lethal quantity of an ultrashort-acting barbiturate in combination with chemical paralytic agents approved by the department until death is pronounced by the coroner. The coroner shall issue the death certificate.

(2)  The execution shall be supervised by the chief administrator or his designee of the State correctional institution designated by the department for the execution.

If you are faced with the crime of capital or first-degree murder, this is the most critical time in your life. If convicted, the consequences are several final and your options are life in prison without the possibility of parole and death. The accusation alone is enough to ruin your life. If you have been charged with murder, allow the Fishman Firm to help plan a winning strategy.