Executing an innocent person for a crime they did not commit is the greatest travesty of any legal system in existence right now. As of March 2014, there have been 144 total convictions that have been overturned since 1973, meaning 144 potentially innocent people were sentenced to die incorrectly.
The State of Florida has overturned the most convictions, stopping 24 executions.
More black people have been exonerated from their convictions than any other race combined in the US. 73 African-Americans have been removed from death row because of evidence of their innocence, 2 more than all of the other race groups combined. With an average rate of 3.5 people being exonerated each year, there could be a number of wrongfully convicted prisoners who are telling the truth when they say they are innocent.
Three Facts About Wrongful Convictions
1. 18 people have had DNA evidence presented to the court that have proved their innocence.
2. Suspects have been excluded in over 25% of investigations since DNA evidence became a standard in US courts.
3. Wrongful identification of eyewitnesses is a factor in 73% of the wrongful convictions that have occurred.
Takeaway: The standard used to be that two or three witnesses had to have seen an event for the testimony to be considered valid. For a period of time in the US, even circumstantial evidence without any testimony or DNA evidence at all was being used as a foundation to convict of a capital crime. That doesn’t mean that science doesn’t screw up either – 49% of wrongful convictions had either improper or unvalidated forensic science behind the conviction. Thanks to modern technology, we can be much surer of who has committed a crime… and who may be innocent.
How Bad Is It Really?
1. Up to 4% of prisoners who are currently sitting on death row may be innocent according to a study published this year.
2. 35% of inmates that were sentenced to death from 1973 to 2004 had their sentences changed to life imprisonment.
3. The State of California is thought to have spent $4 billion in total since 1978 on the execution of prisoners.
4. One of the most persistent problems in the judicial system is an inadequate amount of public representation in low-income death penalty cases.
5. Death row inmates are exonerated at a rate that is 9 times more frequent than those who are convicted of murder without the death sentence.
6. At least 10 people have been known to have been executed wrongly because their innocence was proven after their death.
7. It is estimated that another 330 people have been put to death incorrectly over this same period, but the facts have not yet come to light in their specific cases.
Takeaway: Whether one is for the death penalty or against it, there is common ground in the fact that executing someone for a crime they didn’t commit is not the correct way to administer justice. Not only are the innocent, but if a crime was committed, it means a guilty person is still walking the streets and a threat to society. Although the average comes to about 10 people per year being executed even though they are innocent in the US, here’s a staggering thought: only 39 people were executed in the United States in 2013. That means 25% of them, if the average holds, were innocent.
What Do The Numbers Say?
1. In 2010, there were 3,251 people who were convicted of a capital crime and sitting on death row in the United States.
2. 76% of executions that did occur happened in the southern United States.
3. In 2010, the total number of executions in the US since 1976 was 1,234. Of those, Texas had 464 of them.
4. An average of over 100 death sentences are handed out in the United States every year.
5. Some studies show that for every 8 people who are executed, there is one person who should not be there at all.
6. In 7% of capital cases that have been retried, the suspect was completely acquitted of the crime they were accused of committing. Another 80% are sentenced to something other than death.
7. 15% of convictions are because of false confessions that were given while the person was under duress during police interviews.
Takeaway: Are there a majority of people that are rightly convicted of the crime and sentenced appropriately under current statutes? Yes. The problem is that once an innocent person is executed, there is no real way to make things right. Their name can be cleared, but dead is dead. No amount of payment and no amount of apologies can make up for that one simple fact. That’s why it seems extremely important to allow for adequate counsel, third party investigations of crime, and other alternatives during the sentencing process to be completed before a conviction occurs. Any time on death row for an innocent person is too much time.
A Final Thought…
1. Science has shown that fire patterns that were once thought to be the cause of arson can also occur naturally.
2. Informant testimony in return for lesser sentences or amnesty is a major contributing factor to wrongful sentencing.
3. Incomplete investigations are also a common occurrence because when law enforcement officials believe they have their suspect, they stop looking for alternative suspects in many instances.
Takeaway: There are a number of excellent police officers, investigators, and deputies in this country who do make a difference in their communities. As with any example, however, there are a small minority of instances where the proper investigation was not completed. There are instances of corruption that occur. Eyewitness testimony is falsified, incomplete, or it conflicts but a case is brought to court anyway. Leaving the decisions up to a jury is not good enough. A case should be 100% solid if the death penalty is sought and for hundreds, it has not been.