Innocence and the Death Penalty
Throughout history, scores of inmates have been found to be innocent after their convictions and released from death row. Unfortunately, some have been executed despite overwhelming doubts about their guilt. Our death penalty system is riddled with problems, and it results in too many mistakes. The execution of even one innocent person is too many.
Disturbingly, and increasingly, a large body of evidence from the modern era shows that innocent people are often convicted of crimes – including capital crimes – and that some have been executed. False confessions are one of the leading causes of wrongful conviction, and remain puzzling to a lot of people, who – inaccurately – believe they could not be made to confess to a crime they had not committed.
The state of Georgia has executed Troy Davis, despite serious concerns that he was wrongly convicted in 1989 of killing a police officer. This case makes clear that the death penalty system in the United States is broken beyond repair. It is arbitrary, discriminatory and comes at an enormous cost to taxpayers, and it must be ended.
A joint project of the University of the Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, maintaining an up to date list of all known exonerations in the United States
DNA Testing and the Death Penalty (2011 Resource)
A Question of Innocence (2003 Feature)
On April 8, 2002, Ray Krone was released from prison in Arizona after DNA evidence proved that he was not responsible for the 1991 murder of a Phoenix bartender. Krone became the 100th person exonerated and released from death row since 1973. Convicted twice for a brutal murder, Krone spent ten years in prison, two of them on death row. The DNA evidence that ultimately proved his innocence also implicated the real murderer.
The American Civil Liberties Union believes the death penalty inherently violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law. Furthermore, we hold that the state should not arrogate unto itself the right to kill human beings – especially when it kills with premeditation and ceremony, in the name of the law or in the name of its people, or when it does so in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion.
Max Soffar sits on Texas’s death row for his participation in the killing of three people in an armed robbery in a Houston bowling alley. But Soffar's conviction was based on a false confession. Evidence shows that people like Soffar who are impulsive, have low intelligence, low self-esteem and are prone to fantasy and disassociation are the most likely candidates for false confessions.
In 1993, Levon "Bo" Jones, an innocent African American man, was wrongfully convicted of the 1987 murder of Leamon Grady, a white man. The case against Jones built by investigators and prosecutors was riddled with errors, oversight and ineptitude. Jones was exonerated after 14 years on death row.