Criminal Justice Ethics: William vs. Pennsylvania

When you have a career in the criminal justice system, ethical standards provide guidelines for your conduct. Without criminal justice ethics, the law would have little meaning because its application would be undependable. Depending on your specific occupation within the criminal justice system, ethics will likely govern your interactions with law-breakers, influence your decision-making processes and affect your interpretation of the law.

William vs. Pennsylvania Case

Facts of the case

Terrance Williams was convicted and sentenced to death for the robbery and murder of Amos Norwood. The Supreme Court affirmed Williams’ conviction and sentence. He filed three petitions under the Post-Conviction Relief Act. All of which were denied and the denials affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Williams also petitioned for federal habeas relief, which was denied. On his fourth petition for relief under the Post-Conviction Relief Act, the state court determined that Williams had sufficiently demonstrated that there was governmental interference in his trial and granted the relief.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and lifted the stay of execution.
The Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court at that point was Ronald Castille. He had been the District Attorney for Philadelphia throughout Williams’ trial, sentencing, and appeal. He had personally authorized his office to seek the death penalty in this case. Prior to having his case heard by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Williams moved to have Chief Justice Castille recuse himself from this case. Chief Justice Castille refused to do so. He ultimately joined the opinion that reversed the lower court’s grant of habeas relief and lifted the stay of execution.


Are there violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments when a state supreme court justice declines to recuse himself from a capital case in which he was the district attorney who approves the decision to seek the death penalty?

Are the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments violated by the participation of a potentially biased jurist in a multi-member tribunal in a capital case, regardless of whether that jurist’s vote is ultimately decisive?

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