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Guilty Until Proven Innocent: An Analysis of Post-Furman Capital Errors

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Policy Review Volume: 12 Issue: 2 Dated: June 2001 Pages: 113-139
Talia R. Harmon
Date Published
June 2001
27 pages
This article considers the issue of wrongful convictions in capital cases.
The article examines 76 cases of inmates who were released from death rows between 1970 and 1998 because of doubts about their guilt. It identified causes of wrongful convictions as well as significant events that led to discovery of the miscarriage of justice. Prosecutorial misconduct, perjury of witnesses, police misconduct, and racial discrimination were influential factors that led to wrongful convictions. In addition, continued investigation by the defense attorney, new witnesses coming forward, and/or a confession from another person were the factors most often leading to the discovery of errors. These findings suggest that there have not been any significant changes in causes of erroneous convictions since the implementation of contemporary safeguards. The article suggests a need for policy changes to decrease the chances of erroneous executions. It also suggests that efforts are needed to increase the level of attorney competence in capital cases. This might include increased mandatory training programs, qualifications for capital appointments, and adequate funding for defense attorneys and investigations. Tables, appendixes, notes, references


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