Category Archives: Death Penalty

One Out of 25 Prisoners on Death Row is Innocent

Benjamin Franklin once argued: “It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.” The purpose of courts as drafted in the Constitution was to minimize the occurrences innocent people from “suffering” via an adversarial system in which the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty to a jury of his or her peers.

Regardless of these lofty goals, the question must be asked: how well has this system worked?

If the standard is that of Franklin’s (i.e. less than 1%), then the idea that a rate of 1 in 25 death row convicts are likely innocent is clearly unacceptable. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, to the best the researchers were able to determine, this about what the rate is.

Pete Yost for the Associated Press reports:

From 1973 to 2004, 1.6 percent of those sentenced to death in the U.S. — 138 prisoners — were exonerated and released because of innocence.

But the great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed, says professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School, the study’s lead author.

The difficulty in identifying innocent inmates stems from the fact that more than 60 percent of prisoners in death penalty cases ultimately are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment. Once that happens, their cases no longer receive the exhaustive reviews that the legal system provides for those on death row.
[…]
Because of various assumptions, it might be best to use the margin of error in the study and say the innocence rate is probably between 2.8 percent and 5.2 percent, said University of South Carolina statistics professor John Grego, who wasn’t part of the study.
[…]
“The high rate of exoneration among death-sentenced defendants appears to be driven by the threat of execution,” says the study. “But most death-sentenced defendants are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment, after which the likelihood of exoneration drops sharply.” The study estimates that if all defendants sentenced to death remained in that status, “at least 4.1 percent would be exonerated. We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States.”

I have to say that, even as a fierce opponent of the death penalty, I would have never guessed the number of innocent individuals on death row to be this high. I was horrified by the notion that 1 in 100 or even 1 in 1,000 such individuals could be killed by the state, but 1 in 25?

This brings me to my question for those who support state sanctioned killing: is this an acceptable error rate to you? How many innocent people are we willing to sacrifice in order to kill the most heinous of individuals? Based on this study, the current policy is that we are apparently at peace with the idea of killing 4 innocent people to kill 96 guilty.

This is a price that a free and just country should be unwilling to pay.

‘Super Epic’ Tweet of the Day

There’s some really great tweets about Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster. So far, this is my favorite:

The Innocence Project Marks 300th Exoneration; Provides Statistics About the 300

Back in the spring of 2011, some of you may recall our fundraising efforts to raise $500 for The Innocence Project. Our Liberty Papers readers and writers surpassed that donating $570 of the $20,000 The Innocence Project’s overall goal for that period. Though our fundraising effort is over for the time being, you can always donate at their page if you feel compelled to do so (actually, it’s a very good time to donate as right now, the next $19,000 are being matched by other anonymous donors).

Back when we joined the effort, The Innocence Project had marked 266 exonerations; as of last month they reached the 300th exoneration milestone, well ahead of where I predicted they would be by this time when they reached the 225 mark. Their 300th exoneration, Damon Thibodeaux spent 15 years on death row before being cleared with DNA evidence.

This is a great cause that I cannot say enough good things about. While the 300 exonerations is a very impressive achievement, more important is their efforts to reform the system to reduce the number of wrongful convictions in the first place. This infographic from The Innocence Project provides some very eye-opening statistics concerning their first 300 exonerations.

The Nutmeg State’s Senate Passes Bill Protecting Right to Record Police AND Abolishes the Death Penalty in the Same Week

This week, the State of Connecticut made progress in the right direction on the criminal justice front on two issues I care deeply about: the right of individuals to record the police in public and abolishing the death penalty.

Earlier today, the Connecticut Senate passed a bill 42-11 that would hold the police liable for arresting individuals who record their activities in public. Carlos Miller writing for Pixiq writes:

The Connecticut state senate approved a bill Thursday that would allow citizens to sue police officers who arrest them for recording in public, apparently the first of its kind in the nation.

As it is now, cops act with reckless immunity knowing the worst that can happen is their municipalties [sic] (read: taxpayers) would be responsible for shelling out lawsuits.

Senate Bill 245, which was introduced by Democratic Senator Eric Coleman and approved by a co-partisan margin of 42-11, must now go before the House.
The bill, which would go into effect on October 1, 2012, states the following:

This bill makes peace officers potentially liable for damages for interfering with a person taking a photograph, digital still, or video image of either the officer or a colleague performing his or her job duties. Under the bill, officers cannot be found liable if they reasonably believed that the interference was necessary to (1) lawfully enforce a criminal law or municipal ordinance; (2) protect public safety; (3) preserve the integrity of a crime scene or criminal investigation; (4) safeguard the privacy of a crime victim or other person; or (5) enforce Judicial Branch rules and policies that limit taking photographs, videotaping, or otherwise recording images in branch facilities.

Officers found liable of this offense are entitled, under existing law, to indemnification (repayment) from their state or municipal employer if they were acting within their scope of authority and the conduct was not willful, wanton, or reckless.

While I think the fourth and fifth exceptions to the law could be problematic, this should go a long way toward holding the police accountable.

As if this wasn’t enough good news, just yesterday Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill to abolish the death penalty in the Nutmeg state. CNN reports:

(CNN) — Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a bill into law Wednesday that abolishes the death penalty, making his state the 17th in the nation to abandon capital punishment and the fifth in five years to usher in a repeal.

The law is effective immediately, though prospective in nature, meaning that it would not apply to those already sentenced to death. It replaces the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release as the state’s highest form of punishment.

“Although it is an historic moment — Connecticut joins 16 other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action — it is a moment for sober reflection, not celebration,” Malloy said in a statement.

Connecticut isn’t a state that comes to my mind when I think of a death penalty state and for a good reason: only 2 people have been executed in that state in the last 52 years (both of which wanted to be executed), according to the governor. So, if the administration of the death penalty is so infrequent, why does this abolishing of the death penalty even matter? I think Gov. Malloy said it quite well in his signing statement: “Instead, the people of this state pay for appeal after appeal, and then watch time and again as defendants are marched in front of the cameras, giving them a platform of public attention they don’t deserve.”

Keep up the good work Connecticut!

Hat Tip: The Agitator

Frontline Investigates the State of Forensic Science in “The Real CSI”

Is the forensic science used in the courtroom reliable? The PBS documentary series Frontline makes an attempt at answering this question in an episode entitled: “The Real CSI.”

I cannot recommend this episode enough.

Watch The Real CSI on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Also, the producers of this episode hosted a live chat for viewers to ask some follow-up questions (I’m sorry I missed it). Here is the archive from the chat.

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