Death penalty kills the innocent.

In response to questions posed on this blog, I am suggesting that readers look at studies below. With regard to the question of innocence, it makes no sense for supporters of capital punishment to argue that there are many fewer cases of innocents that we on the other side think. If any innnocent person is executed it is state-sanctioned murder and calls the whole system and its fallibility into question.

Copyright (c) 2005 Northwestern School of Law Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, Winter, 2005, 95 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 625, 4233 words, SYMPOSIUM: INNOCENCE IN CAPITAL SENTENCING: ARTICLE: FURTHER REFLECTIONS ON THE GUILLOTINE, RONALD J. ALLEN* & AMY SHAVELL**

And this from the Innocence Project:

Facts on Post-Conviction DNA Exonerations

[Print Version]

There have been 205 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States.

  • The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989. Exonerations have been won in 31 states; since 2000, there have been 142 exonerations.
  • 15 of the 205 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row.
  • The average length of time served by exonerees is 12 years. The total number of years served is approximately 2,538.
  • The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions was 26.
  • Of the 205 exonerees:
    • 123 African Americans
    • 57 Caucasians
    • 19 Latinos
    • 1 Asian American
    • 5 whose race is unknown
  • The true suspects and/or perpetrators have been identified in 77 of the DNA exoneration cases.
  • Since 1989, there have been tens of thousands of cases where prime suspects were identified and pursued—until DNA testing (prior to conviction) proved that they were wrongly accused.
  • In more than 25 percent of cases in a National Institute of Justice study, suspects were excluded once DNA testing was conducted during the criminal investigation (the study, conducted in 1995, included 10,060 cases where testing was performed by FBI labs).
  • 45 percent of exonerees have been financially compensated. 21 states, the federal government, and the District of Columbia have passed laws to compensate people who were wrongfully incarcerated. Awards under these statutes vary from state to state.
  • 33 percent of cases closed by the Innocence Project were closed because of lost or missing evidence.

Leading Causes of Wrongful Convictions

These DNA exoneration cases have provided irrefutable proof that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events, but arise from systemic defects that can be precisely identified and addressed. For more than 14 years, the Innocence Project has worked to pinpoint these trends.

Seventy-seven percent of post-conviction DNA exoneration cases in the U.S. involve mistaken eyewitness identification testimony, making it the leading cause of these wrongful convictions. Of that 77 percent, 48 percent of cases where race is known involved cross-racial eyewitness identification. Studies have shown that people are less able to recognize faces of a different race than their own. The Innocence Project has adopted a series of guidelines to improve the reliability of eyewitness identifications. These suggested reforms are practiced in the state of New Jersey, large cities like Minneapolis and Seattle, and several smaller jurisdictions.

Lab error and junk science have played a role in 65 percent of wrongful convictions.

In over half of DNA exonerations, the misapplication of forensic disciplines—such as blood type testing, hair analysis, fingerprint analysis, bite mark analysis, and more—has played a role in convicting the innocent. In these cases, forensic scientists and prosecutors presented fraudulent, exaggerated, or otherwise tainted evidence to the judge or jury which led to the wrongful conviction. Three cases have even involved erroneous testimony about DNA test results.

False confessions and incriminating statements lead to wrongful convictions in 25 percent of cases. More than 350 jurisdictions now record interrogations.

False confessions are another leading cause of wrongful convictions. Twenty-five percent of cases involve a false confession or incriminating statement made by the defendant. Of those cases, 35 percent were 18 or under and/or developmentally disabled. The Innocence Project encourages police departments to electronically record all custodial interrogations in their entirety in order to prevent coercion and to provide an accurate record of the proceedings. More than 350 jurisdictions have voluntarily adopted policies to record interrogations. State supreme courts have taken action in Alaska, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia require the taping of interrogations in homicide cases.

Snitches contribute to wrongful convictions in 15 percent of cases.
Another principal factor in wrongful convictions is the use of snitches, or jailhouse informants. Whenever snitch testimony is used, the Innocence Project recommends that the judge instruct the jury that most snitch testimony is unreliable as it may be offered in return for deals, special treatment, or the dropping of charges. Prosecutors should also reveal any incentive the snitch might receive, and all communication between prosecutors and snitches should be recorded. Fifteen percent of wrongful convictions that were later overturned by DNA testing were caused in part by snitch testimony.

For more on specific cases, go to

6 thoughts on “Death penalty kills the innocent.”

  1. Hi i have read with interest about wrongful convictions.
    The thing iam having trouble with is that you have given valid reasons as to why wrongful convictions happen but surely these reasons could also free a guilty person? if there are faults in the system that allow innocent people to be convicted surely there are faults that allow the guilty free? its just a thought!


  2. the system as a whole should be over hauled to stop wrongful convictions and wrongful releases. how do we know we are not freeing the guilty?


  3. As fallible beings, *everything* we do will be subject to failure in some degree. The death penalty, an irreversible, perfect sentence, should not be imparted by an imperfect system.


  4. What are the arguments against capital punishment (death penalty)?…

    One simple, but strongly compelling, argument against capital punishment: Too many people have been falsely convicted. In 2001, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School analyzed the cases of 86 death row exonerees. They found a num…


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