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Poll shows very strong support for changing Pennsylvania’s felony murder law
HARRISBURG – An overwhelming 79% of Pennsylvanians support changing the state’s mandatory life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) sentence for people convicted of felony murder, according to a Susquehanna Polling & Research poll commissioned by FAMM.
“FAMM has always supported ending the antiquated and draconian life without the possibility of parole sentence for felony murder,” said Pennsylvania State Director Celeste Trusty. “Nearly 4 in 5 Pennsylvanians support judges having the flexibility to consider the facts and circumstances of each unique case. In felony murder cases, where different people play different roles in the crime, requiring judges to dole out mandatory life without the possibility of parole sentences regardless of someone’s role in an offense isn’t a system Pennsylvanians want, and it certainly isn’t justice.”
Second-degree homicide is also known as “felony murder” in Pennsylvania and can be charged any time someone dies in the course of a felony offense, even if the participants in the crime did not plan or intend to harm anyone. Pennsylvania has one of the harshest felony murder laws in the country, and the second largest life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) prison population in the United States. Incoming Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro pledged to give judges proper discretion and fix Pennsylvania’s felony murder law during his campaign.
“Sentencing around felony murder should be updated so that it better reflects the differing degrees of involvement and culpability involved in the perpetration of this crime,” said Greg Rowe, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. “Unfortunately, the present mandatory life sentence for felony murder does not account for these different levels, which has led to some unfortunate results for individuals tangentially involved in the planning of and participation in the underlying crime. Legislation to remedy this problem, while also ensuring that those who meaningfully and significantly participate in the homicide continue to be held accountable, would represent good public policy.”
The poll’s main explanatory question was:
A person commits felony murder when they are involved in any type of felony crime, and a person dies. A person can be punished for felony murder even if they did not intend to kill anyone, know that anyone was going to be killed, or actually kill anyone. In Pennsylvania, the sentence for felony murder is a mandatory life without the possibility of parole regardless of the circumstances, or whether they killed or intended to kill someone or not.
Should judges be required to give everyone involved in a felony murder offense a sentence of life in prison without parole? Or should judges be allowed to weigh the individual circumstances of each person involved in a felony murder, so that individuals who participate in a felony murder – but did not intend to injure or kill someone during the commission of a crime – can be sentenced differently, and less harshly, than those that did?”
For more than three decades, FAMM has united the voices of affected families, the formerly incarcerated, and a range of stakeholders and advocates to fight for a more fair and effective justice system. FAMM has led the fight to reform extreme mandatory sentencing laws and to promote rehabilitation and dignity for all people in prison, 94 percent of whom will return to our neighborhoods one day.
FAMM is a national nonpartisan advocacy organization that promotes fair and effective criminal justice policies that safely reduce incarceration, save taxpayer dollars, and keep families together. Founded in 1991, FAMM has secured bold sentencing and prison reform across the country while elevating the voices of directly impacted individuals and families.
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