Friday, January 12, 2024

The Death Penalty and Wrongful Convictions

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As wrongful conviction organizations nationwide can attest, experience confirms that the death penalty does not deter murder. But it also poses the risk of executing innocent people.

Innocent People Are Too Often Sentenced to Death

The death penalty in the US is rife with problems that make it very likely innocent people are falsely convicted and execute. Innocent people are wrongly convicted for many reasons, including false confessions made under police pressure and shoddy defense work. They are also more likely to be convict of capital offenses because they are black or Hispanic (research has found that racial bias is a significant predictor of death penalty support), poor and living in rural areas, and females (who tend to be accused of murdering abusive male partners).

A new study estimates that at least 4.1% of those sentenced to death since 1973 have been innocent. It is the first study to use statistical techniques to figure out this hidden problem of wrongful convictions. While this is a very conservative estimate, it shows that innocent people are being execute and may be at risk of being executed in the future.

It is essential to highlight this issue because wrongful convictions can powerfully affect the death penalty opinion. Research has found that when people learn about exonerations, their views on the death penalty shift significantly. This is particularly true for racially biase opinions on the death penalty.

The Death Penalty Doesn’t Deter Murder

Some people might argue that, even if the death penalty doesn’t deter murder, it’s still worth preserving because it prevents would-be criminals from trying to commit heinous crimes again. But that argument ignores that it takes away a criminal’s opportunity to seek rehabilitation and requires states to spend enormous resources on a process that is often arbitrary, biased, and unfair.

Furthermore, a survey of law enforcement professionals found that they rank the death penalty lowest among ways to reduce violence. The death penalty exacerbates the injustice experience by many murder victims, including those who were wrongfully convict and sentence to death.

Many families of murder victims are against the death penalty because they don’t want their loved ones to serve as a “deterrent.” Opposing the death penalty doesn’t demonstrate a lack of sympathy for murdered family members, and it shows that state-sponsored killing violates the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

The truth is that the death penalty disproportionately affects black and poor people. It is a violation of constitutional due process, it can lead to botched executions, and it can create incentives for false convictions. It also discourages lawyers from taking cases on appeal because of the financial risk. These factors, along with a high error rate and the difficulty of proving innocence, make it an unacceptable tool for deterring crime.

The Death Penalty Incentives False Convictions

It’s impossible to predict which crimes will be commit. Still, the death penalty increases the odds of wrongful convictions by incentivizing overzealous prosecution, perjury or false accusations, racism, faulty police work, community pressure for a conviction, and seemingly conclusive circumstantial evidence. It also incentivizes the suppression of exculpatory evidence and the use of coerced testimony. It is no wonder that phone polls show that support for capital punishment has steadily declined in the United States.

The most common cause of wrongful convictions is abuse of the justice system by prosecutors and police officers. 

Wrongful convictions occur all across the country and have even led to executions. DPIC’s data indicates that many innocent people are on death row. Texas alone has 190 inmates, including four wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Sadly, to speed up executions, Congress has severely restricted access to federal habeas corpus and ended funding for regional death penalty “resource centers.” These restrictions virtually guarantee that innocent people will continue to be wrongfully sentence to death and execute. 

The Death Penalty Incentives Suicide-by-Execution

When potential murderers consider committing a crime, they must calculate the likelihood of being caught, convicted, sentenced to death, and execute. That calculation can include weighing their circumstances and what their family will suffer due to their conviction if they are being execute. If, as some economists argue, a high chance of execution will deter murderers, then a decline in murder rates is expect when the probability of being execute increases.

But the evidence shows that this is not the case. Instead, the death penalty has incentivized murderers to kill to avoid execution. This horrific tragedy for the victims and their families undermines the criminological justifications for capital punishment.

Moreover, many Americans recognize that there is little chance the death penalty will be reformed. In a series of surveys conducted online and over the phone, respondents consistently give lower support for the death penalty in the self-administered online format than in the live phone polls. The reasons for this discrepancy are unclear but may reflect that those more closely tied to the criminal justice system are less likely to support it.

Jack Owen
Jack Owen
Jack Owens is a highly skilled content writer and content marketer specializing in the field of education. With a degree in Education Management from Howard University, Jack possesses in-depth knowledge of educational practices and pedagogy. Through his compelling and engaging content, he captivates readers and effectively communicates complex educational concepts.

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