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Firmament or Folly? Protecting the Innocent, Promoting Capital Punishment, and the Paradoxes of Reconciliation

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 29 Issue: 2 Dated: April 2012 Pages: 287-307
James R. Acker; Rose Bellandi
Date Published
April 2012
21 pages
This article discusses capital punishment, and the injustice of executing innocent persons.
Although considerable controversy surrounds capital punishment, there is no disagreement about the injustice of executing innocent persons. While critics of the death penalty have cited the risk of executing the innocent as a reason for its abolition, adherents have dismissed the risk of error as negligible, if not inevitable, and insufficient reason to halt capital punishment. Still others have proposed or enacted reforms designed to minimize the risk of erroneous capital convictions and sentences and, hence, allow executions to go forward in deserving cases in which doubts about guilt have largely been eradicated. In this article, the authors examine the principled tensions that accompany attempts simultaneously to safeguard the innocent from execution while promoting the objectives of capital punishment. The authors focus, in particular, on reforms recently incorporated into Maryland's death penalty law. The authors suggest that the existing tensions between protecting the innocent from execution and promoting the objectives of capital punishment are so pronounced that attempted reconciliation of the competing interests is difficult to defend, either in principle or in practice. (Published Abstract)