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Are Attorneys Fees Inadequate in PA Death-Penalty Cases?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on October 05, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered hearings on Philadelphia's attorney fees for death penalty cases.

The move comes after a petition by the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation. The non-profit argued that the attorney's fees for death penalty cases in Philadelphia was so low that it violated criminal defendants' constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel.

How low is the fee?

The group says that fees in Philadelphia are $2,000 for pretrial preparation. And attorneys are only entitled to a maximum of $400 per trial day.

Any small firm specializing in criminal defense recognizes that death penalty cases are both complex and time consuming.

So is $400 per day enough? Does $2,000 for pretrial preparation cut it?

Compare Philadelphia's fees to those in other counties. In Allegheny County, lawyers are given an hourly fee of $50. In total, if the attorney works for 8 hours, he'd get paid $400.

But consider Lycoming County. There, attorneys are given an hourly fee of $125 an hour. An attorney working on this case would net $1,000 a day.

Attorneys working on federal capital cases net a similar hourly rate: a $178 maximum.

Is Philadelphia's daily cap of $400 really depriving defendants of their constitutional right?

Most criminal defense attorneys strive to provide their clients with the very best defense. Just because an attorney's fee may be less does not mean that they'd let their principles slide.

But at the same time, money is unfortunately something that most lawyers have to consider. It's possible that some attorneys may simply pass up opportunities to defend death penalty cases because they cannot afford it.

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