House Approves Benninghoff Bill Seeking Death Penalty for Sexually Violent Murderers with History of Deviance

The House on Monday approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) that would increase the likelihood that criminals with a history of sexually deviant offenses who commit a sexually violent murder would now be eligible for the death penalty. 

“This bill is about justice, protecting law-abiding citizens and keeping dangerous people off the streets,” Benninghoff said.  “It targets sexually deviant criminals who have shown more than once that they pose a serious threat to society.” 

Benninghoff’s legislation – House Bill 317 – targets people who already are registered as a sex offender or sexually violent predator under Megan’s Law.  If such a person committed a sexually violent murder, Benninghoff’s measure would change the sentencing guidelines following the murder conviction. 

The sexually violent murder in combination with the registration under Megan’s Law would be considered an “aggravating circumstance” when sentencing the criminal.   

During sentencing, juries in first-degree murder cases must consider both aggravating circumstances and mitigating circumstances.  Under current law, if at least one aggravating circumstance is present and there are no mitigating circumstances, the sentence must be the death penalty.  If one or more aggravating circumstances are present that outweigh any mitigating circumstances, the murderer must be sentenced to the death penalty.  Under all other scenarios, the murderer would be sentenced to life in prison. 

“The fact that the criminal has a history of sexually deviant convictions should count against him or her during sentencing,” Benninghoff said.  “The families of the victims deserve nothing less than true justice from our legal system.  While it cannot bring back their loved one, it can ensure the same thing does not happen to some other unsuspecting victim.” 

Some examples of other aggravating circumstances under current law include cases in which the victim was a member of law enforcement or a judge, the killing was done for hire or the victim was tortured. 

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. 

State Representative Kerry Benninghoff
171st District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Contact:  Dan Massing

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