It has been said that no justice system that has been created by humans is 100% perfect. It has also been said that because of this fact, the use of the death penalty should be avoided. Human beings are fallible creatures and they will make mistakes. Humans can also be prideful, desperate creatures who are willing to set others up to take a fall! Innocent people are killed by the death penalty because of this, but even advances in science have shown what police thought to be an air-tight case was really them sentencing an innocent person to death.
Statistics About Innocent People Killed By the Death Penalty
1. The number of people who were sentenced to death between 1973-2004: 7,482.
2. The number of exoneration’s that took place over that same time: 117.
3. Only 13% of those who are convicted of a capital crime in the United States have been put to death.
4. The data about innocent people killed by the death penalty begins in 1973 because the Supreme Court invalidated all previous capital sentencing laws that year.
5. As of 2004, most who were on death row in the US had been in prison for less than 24 months.
6. If the 4% innocence estimate is accurate, it would equate to about 50 people being innocent when they were executed by the death penalty.
7. The number of people on death row who may be innocent if 4% of the total population was wrongly convicted: over 200.
8. The United States is consistently a Top 5 nation in the world for instituting the death penalty.
9. Since 1976, there have been 1,389 total executions in the United States.
10. The African American population is over-represented in death penalty numbers as they make up 35% of the total amount of executions in the US.
11. Over ¾ of the murder victims in capital cases are Caucasian, although in the US only 1 in 2 murder victims is usually white.
12. There has been an average of 5 exoneration’s from death row per year since the year 2000. Before then, there was an average of 3 exoneration’s per year.
13. California has the most inmates on death row: 743 as of April 2014.
14. Blacks are almost equally represented as Whites when it comes to the current death row population.
15. The number of death sentences as dropped dramatically since 1999, with only 79 capital convictions occurring in both 2012 and 2013.
16. It wasn’t until 2005 that the Supreme Court struck down using the death penalty for juveniles. 22 were killed by the death penalty for crimes that committed as a juvenile before this ruling.
17. As of January 2014, there were 60 women on death row in the United States.
18. The US South is accountable for over 80% of the total death penalty executions that occur every year, with Texas and Oklahoma responsible for half of them alone.
19. The areas of the country with the lowest crime rates also don’t have the death penalty or don’t enforce it lethally.
20. 88% of those in a 2009 survey of criminology experts believe that executions do not lower homicide rates in the country.
21. Death penalty convictions generally cost taxpayers 4x the amount per conviction when compared to non-death penalty cases.
22. For the State of Florida, enforcing the death penalty costs $51 million per year more than converting every death row inmate into a life prison sentence without parole.
23. In Texas, which leads the US in death penalty enforcement, the average death penalty case costs $2.3 million.
24. Most innocent people are released from death row because of advances in scientific technology, journalistic research, or expert attorney work that is not available to the average inmate.
25. In some states, a death penalty can be recommended by a jury without a unanimous vote.
26. As many as 36% of the inmates that were convicted of a capital offense between 1973-2004 were taken off of death row because of doubts in their cases.
27. There have been at least 39 executions that have taken place that involved cases where there was serious doubt or known innocence.
28. There are at least 10 people who were convicted and executed for a capital crime where there was strong evidence of their innocence, with the latest being in 2011.
29. For someone who is innocent, but still placed on death row, it takes at least 7 years on average for them to be exonerated – if they ever are.
30. Confessions are often used as evidence, but with police manipulation and pressure, it can create overly cooperative suspects who just want the questioning ordeal to end.
31. DNA evidence alone has exonerated 18 people from death row.
Even just one person being killed by the death penalty when they are innocent is too many.
What the Facts Say
Knowing how many innocent people have been killed is a difficult question to ask. There are certainly cases that are questionable when looked at in retrospect, but it is often rare to find 100% certainty in someone’s innocence after the case. According to a new study, however, it could be that 4 out of every 100 people that have been executed in the United States by the death penalty were actually innocent of the capital crime that put them on death row.
One of the most famous cases of innocence that has come out is that of Cameron Willingham. He was accused of setting fire to his own house, causing the deaths of his three children. His conviction was based on the testimony of the fire inspector, who noted accelerant patterns in the home and a convict in jail with Willingham at the time who said he had admitted to the crime. The courts were told that the convict was not offered anything for his testimony, but this was found not to be the case after the fact. Science also discovered that fires, under extremely hot conditions, can create patterns that look like accelerant was used. Willingham was executed in 2004.
What makes finding out if someone is innocent or not while on death row is difficult. There really is no method in place to determine if a conviction was justified in any given case. No one can really know if an innocent person was put to death unless there is compelling evidence that comes out to prove without a doubt that someone didn’t commit a crime. This lack of methodology means there are very few innocent people every discovered before or after a capital conviction has been enforced.
Impact on Society
There must be a standard of evidence in place that is both reasonable and provides evidence without a doubt. Today’s convictions for capital offenses have become reliant not on eyewitness testimony, but scientific evidence that may or may not actually be real. Then there is the reliance on cooperative inmate testimony that is as influenced by the prosecutor’s office and an inmate’s desire to have a sentence reduction rather than the need for justice.
That’s not to say that every prosecutor is a bad, evil person. Many prosecutors do their jobs incredibly well and seek to protect their communities from harm. Even the best people make mistakes, however, intentional or not, and that is what the justice system needs to work on protecting against. Having multiple layers of requirements for a death row conviction beyond the basic, yet extensive appeals process should be required. The work of the Innocence Project should become standard in all capital convictions.
That’s because the stories of innocence which come out of the US legal system are heartbreaking, even when the conviction doesn’t end in an execution. Rolando Cruz was convicted of murder in the State of Illinois. He spent 10 years on death row in that state despite the fact that police had a confession from someone else. Ricardo Aldape Guerra spent 15 years on death row in Texas simply because the prosecutor in the case wanted to have a successful condition.
There’s also the case of Paul Hildwin in Florida. He was convicted in 1985 for murder, but DNA evidence that was discovered years ago was not used to re-examine the case. Prosecutors, in fact, attempted to shut down legal actions taking by innocence projects groups and eventually appealed to the state supreme court, where a 5-2 ruling was given in Hildwin’s favor. Now Hildwin has to wait several more months behind bars while prosecutors decide to try the case again or drop the charges.
It is true that we have come a long way as a nation from the early 1900’s. There was a time when a jury would convict someone based solely on the color of their skin rather than in the merits of the case and that was considered an acceptable standard. There have been several posthumous pardons issued throughout the years as older cases are looked at and innocence has been ultimately determined. The true extent of innocence that has been executed anyway by the enforcement of the death penalty might never actually be known.