Mumia’s Death Sentence Ruled Unconstitutional by Federal Court

NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.
For Immediate Release April 26, 2011
Contact: Melquiades Gagarin,, 212-965-2783

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s 1982 Death Sentence is Again Declared Unconstitutional

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has unanimously declared that Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence is unconstitutional. In today’s decision, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed its 2008 finding that Mr. Abu-Jamal’s sentencing jury was misled about the process for considering evidence supporting a life sentence. The Court found that, in violation of the United States Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in Mills v. Maryland, the jury was improperly led to believe that that it could only consider unanimously agreed upon evidence favoring a life verdict. This mistake rendered Mr. Abu-Jamal’s death sentence fundamentally unfair. The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and Professor Judy Ritter of Widener Law School represent Mr. Abu-Jamal in this appeal of his 1982 conviction and death sentence for the murder of a police officer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“This decision marks an important step forward in the struggle to correct the mistakes of an unfortunate chapter in Pennsylvania history,” said John Payton, Director-Counsel of LDF. “Again acknowledging the existence of clear constitutional error in Mr. Abu-Jamal’s trial, the Court of Appeals’ decision enhances confidence in the criminal justice system and helps to relegate the kind of unfairness on which this death sentence rested to the distant past.”

Prof. Ritter noted that, “Pennsylvania long ago abandoned the confusing and misleading instructions and verdict slip that were relied on in Mr. Abu-Jamal’s trial in order to prevent unfair and unjust death sentences. Courts now use clear and unambiguous language to advise sentencing juries about their ability to consider evidence that favors a life verdict. Mr. Abu-Jamal is entitled to no less constitutional protection.” Mr. Abu-Jamal he has been on death row in Pennsylvania for 29 years.

To speak with counsel for Mr. Abu-Jamal, please contact Melquiades Gagarin,, 212-965-2783.


Full text of the decision can be downloaded here:

No. 01-9014
direct quotes from decision

“Accordingly, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court failed to evaluate whether the complete text of the verdict form, together with the jury instructions, would create a substantial probability the jury believed both aggravating and mitigating circumstances must be found unanimously. See id. For these reasons, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s application of Mills was objectively unreasonable.

“thereby making clear that, although aggravating circumstances must be found unanimously, mitigating evidence need not be found unanimously in order to be considered by individual jurors during the weighing and balancing process.” “For the foregoing reasons, we will affirm the District Court’s grant of relief on the mitigation instruction claim. As the District Court noted, the “Commonwealth of Pennsylvania may conduct a new sentencing hearing in a manner consistent with this opinion within 180 days of the Order accompanying this [opinion], during which period the execution of the writ of habeas corpus will be stayed, or shall sentence [Abu-Jamal] to life imprisonment.” Abu-Jamal, 2001 WL 1609690, at *130.”