According to Pennsylvania law, there are 18 aggravating circumstances — factors that enhance the severity of an alleged crime — that can compel a district attorney to pursue the death penalty.
When a defendant is convicted of a death penalty-eligible offense and the district attorney has indicated an intent to pursue the death penalty, the jury will then have to decide unanimously whether to sentence the defendant to death or life in prison.
To order death, a jury must unanimously find that at least one aggravating circumstance (e.g. victim being a police officer or other public servant; the defendant committing the murder during the commission of a felony, etc.) existed beyond a reasonable doubt and those circumstances must outweigh any possible mitigating circumstances (e.g. defendant having no significant criminal history; the defendant being under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance), which a jury must find to exist beyond a preponderance of the evidence. If a jury can’t do that, a life sentence is ordered.
For the full list of aggravating and mitigating circumstances and for full article see: How a jury reaches a death sentence – chicagotribune.com.
- Reviewing the uncertain state of capital justice in the state of North Carolina (sentencing.typepad.com)
- Phyo Wai Aung Receives Death Sentence (irrawaddy.org)
- California assemblyman says “Death Penalty Needs Streamlining, Not Repeal” (sentencing.typepad.com)