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Innocence and the Death Penalty: The Increasing Danger of Executing the Innocent

NCJ Number
R C Dieter
Date Published
39 pages
The current emphasis on faster executions, less resources for the defense, and an expansion in the number of death-penalty cases mean that the execution of innocent people is inevitable.
The danger that innocent people will be executed because of errors in the criminal justice system is getting worse. A total of 69 people have been released from death row since 1973 after evidence of their innocence emerged. Many of these cases were discovered because of new scientific techniques, investigations by journalists, and the work of expert attorneys, rather than because of the normal appeals process. The aforementioned resources to remedy conviction errors are not available to the typical death-row inmate, however. This report profiles a number of cases in which death-row inmates were released after they were judged to be innocent. This report particularly looks at the dramatic narrowing of the opportunity to appeal and to raise newly discovered evidence of one's innocence. The Federal funding for the death penalty resource centers, which helped discover and vindicate several of the innocent people cited in this report, has been withdrawn. Some courts have now take the position that it is permissible for executions to go forward even in the face of considerable doubt about the defendant's guilt.