News 12.16.15

New Capital Punishment Study Highlights ‘Traditional Problems’ Concerning Innocence and Death Row

The 2015 exonerations of six death row inmates have once again spotlighted the widespread problems affecting the administration of capital punishment across the United States. The numbers were highlighted in a  new report released by the Death Penalty Information Center.

According to the center’s

2015 Year End Report

, the “traditional problems” with the death penalty persisted throughout 2015 with innocence cases, in particular, underscoring issues involving racial bias, the manipulation of witnesses, inaccurate forensic testimony and incompetent defense.

The precarious relationship between wrongful convictions and the death penalty is especially highlighted in the recent exonerations of

Debra Milke

(Arizona),

Anthony Ray Hinton

(Alabama),

Willie Manning

(Mississippi),

Alfred Brown

(Texas),

Lawrence William Lee

(Georgia), and

Derral Hodgkins

(Florida), who join the other 150 men and women from 26 states who have been exonerated from death row since 1973.    

In addition, the report’s findings note that police and prosecutorial misconduct “continued to plague wrongful capital convictions, significantly contributing to at least 12 of the past 14 death-row exonerations.”

The intersection of wrongful conviction and capital punishment remains particularly concerning due to the worryingly high numbers of innocents on death row. Last year, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 4.1 percent of defendants who are sentenced to death in the United States are innocent, one in 25 or more than 300 death-sentenced defendants since 1973.  

Against that backdrop, the Death Penalty Information Center’s latest report does acknowledge that executions in the United States have dropped to their lowest levels in 24 years and public opinion polls now reveal that a majority of Americans prefer sentences of life without parole to the death penalty. Meanwhile, it the report adds that opposition to capital punishment polled higher than any time since 1972.

 

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