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Capital Punishment and the Innocent
In the United Stated there is a current debate on whether or not the death penalty should be abolished. In light of recent events of death row prisoners being found innocent after spending 30 years on death row, or the lethal injection drugs not working correctly and prisoners dying agonizing deaths and not being painless as the American public was lead to believe. According to the death penalty information Center as of October 2013, there are currently 3,088 people on death row in the United States. For many years I have been a big proponent of the death penalty until I noticed that in recent years there have been a record number of exonerated death row inmates. They are innocent and spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit.
In the United States there are currently 52 states that have the death penalty. These are the death penalty states and next to them in prentices are the numbers of prisoners on death row in each state. The states that have the death penalty are; Alabama (197), Arizona (125), Arkansas (38), California (741), Colorado (4), Delaware (18), Florida (412), Georgia (94), Idaho (12), Indiana (12), Kansas (10), Kentucky (34), Louisiana (88), Mississippi (48), Missouri (49), Montana (2), Nebraska (11), Nevada (80), New Hampshire (1), North Carolina (159), Ohio (143), Oklahoma (54), Oregon (36), Pennsylvania (193), South Carolina (50), South Dakota (3), Tennessee (81), Texas (287), Utah (9), Virginia (9), Washington (9) and Wyoming (1). There are currently 6 on death row in the United States Military. There are currently 60 individuals on death row at this time for the United States Government.
According to the Innocent Project between 1998 and 2002 there have been 28 exonerations from death row. Since records started being kept on exonerations on death row in the early 1970's there has been 316 prisoners exonerated from death row. (Scheck) Of those 316 prisoners 198 of those were African American, 94 have been white, 22 have been Latino, 2 have been Asian. The average time served by exonerated inmates is 13.5 years.
One would think with the recent advancement of DNA that the number exonerations by DNA would be higher than it is. Of the 314 exonerated, 18 of them were cleared by DNA evidence. The DNA that was used to exonerate the prisoners identified 153 suspects that committed those crimes. (Innocent Projects) There are some states that have higher exoneration numbers than other. The top three states that have the highest amount of exonerated are: Florida with 24, Illinois with 20 and Texas with 12. There has been a large amount of wrongly convicted that are set free. There are only 29 stated that have compensation laws. The Federal Government also have compensation laws that have been put in place. Ask yourself is there enough money in the world to compensate individuals with generations behind bars for crimes they did not commit?
There is a National Registry of Exonerations that gives detailed information on all the cases of the wrongly convicted since 1989. This is a joint project of the University Of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The National Registry of Exonerations states that gives detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989-cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. According to the National Registry of Exoneration on 4/21/2014 Jimmie Nelson was exonerated. In 2010, Jimmie Nelson was sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison for a 1980 murder in which the victim's body was never found. In April 2014, Iosco County prosecutors dismissed the case after they found new evidence pointing to a different suspect. On April 8, 2014 Jonathan Fleming was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for a 1989 murder in Brooklyn New York, despite evidence he was in Florida at the time. He was exonerated after the only eyewitness recanted, another witness identified the real killer, and it was discovered that authorities had concealed a receipt showing he paid a hotel bill in Orlando hours before the shooting in New York. This makes you ask yourself why would authorities convict this person if they clearly know he was innocent by a hotel receipt. On April 4, 2014 Randall Mills was exonerated. In 2000, Randall Mills was convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl in Marshall County, Tennessee, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was exonerated after DNA tests on semen found on the victim's clothing excluded him and identified the DNA profiles of two other men. On April 2, 2014 Walter Lomax was exonerated. In 1968, Walter Lomax was sentenced to life in prison for robbery and murder in Baltimore, Maryland. In 2006, his sentence was reduced and he was released after 38 years in prison. In 2014, Lomax was exonerated when the Baltimore State's Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit discovered that evidence from the original investigation that had been concealed for decades showed that Lomax could not have been the murderer.
The above mentioned cases were not cases that were death penalty cases, but what they did show was that they were wrong fully convicted. It also shows that prosecutorial misconduct was the cause of two of the wrongful convictions. The leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States is Eye witness testimony (West). Of those misidentified 40% were involved in cross racial identification, showing that people are less likely to recognize someone outside of their race. There is an alarming number of misidentifications that lead to convictions. Of those convicted, 73% of those that are later exonerated, they were exonerated by DNA (West). This shows that eye witness identification is not reliable and that misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.
Racial Bias is another reason for the high number of exonerations. All white juries have more often sentenced people to death for crimes they did not commit and there are a high number of overturned convictions from all white juries. There is a strong link to all white juries and the conviction to innocent African America men and minorities.(Scheck)
There has been exoneration by improper or invalidated Forensic Science. There are certain techniques that have gotten death row convictions, yet that are not validated. They are hair microscopy, bite mark comparison and firearm tool mark comparison. There have been bite marks used for convictions and were later cleared. 50% of the individuals that were wrongfully convicted using these techniques were later cleared by DNA evidence. (Innocent Projects)
False confessions believe it or not are high on the exoneration list. The number of DNA exonerations by innocent people that gave incriminating statements is currently at 25%. (Scheck) The reasoning is that more often than not these confessions are obtained from external influences or scare tactics by police officers. In some cases individuals taking the fall for someone else, did not realize the repercussions of the crime they just admitted to doing.
Government misconduct is high on the list. Prosecutorial misconduct is rampant in false convictions of death row in mates. The problem with this is prosecutors face little or no reprimands from these behaviors. Prosecutors not turning over evidence that could exonerate a person and notes that shows that the subject is innocent. Police Officers fall into this category as well. There has been convictions overturned because police officer got caught lying and did not give evidence to the prosecutor that could clear the suspect of the crime. There is also mishandling or tampering of evidence by police officers and technicians. A number of these convictions have been overturned by DNA testing. Police informants or jail house informants, who are given incentives to testify against the suspect, therefore giving them a reason to give false testimony.
Bad Lawyers should be at the top of the list. I am a firm believer that money to hire a good attorney will get one found not guilty. When a public defender is granted, the individual more often than not is going to be convicted. The poor have poor or no legal resources. In most cases the poor are more likely to be sent to death row because they are represented by lawyers that are incompetent, overburdened with cases, the lawyer fails to investigate anything, failure to call witnesses, failure to prepare for trial. This is caused by the lack of state funding for lawyers in capital cases. Therefore the lawyers that are public defenders are at the bottom of the list for law school graduates. The public defender in a lot of cases has never tried a capital case before. In some cases states have a list of court appoint attorneys and these attorneys have little or no experience at all.
The highest number of individuals that have been exonerated from death row are southern African American men, they have the highest number of wrongful convictions (Scheck). People of color are exonerated at a much higher number than any other group. With all the DNA exonerations proof that wrongful convictions are not did not isolate incident nor are they a rare occurrence. (Innocent Projects).
The most recent individual exonerate was Glen Ford. He was exoneration on 03/11/2014 (Cohen). Glen spent 30 years in Angola prison in Louisiana. This is considered one of the worst prisons in the country. He was convicted in 1984 for killing an elderly white male that he worked for. On November 05, 1983 Glen was sentenced to death. He was tried and sentenced by an all-white jury. The reason that his conviction was overturned was clear and defined prosecutorial misconduct. The prosecutor did not submit evidence that proved he was not guilty. Police misconduct, a witness stated police made her say she saw Glen and that she had not. She told this to the Jury and he was still convicted. Glen's court appointed attorneys never tried a trial case before, both of his attorneys were oil and gas/ insurance attorneys, they state of Louisiana gave him ineffective counsel. All capital punishment cases it is mandatory that the defense attorney has at least three years of trial experience. These two had not even one day. This was a weak case and during the trial and after the trial Glen's constitutional rights were denied to him. It was proven that the prosecution did not share exculpatory evidence that would have exonerated suspect during trial. Finally after 30 years on death row Glen was a free man.
There have been many wrongful convictions of the innocent. So many prisoners exonerated over the years. It makes one ask how many were put to death that were actually innocent. Is putting guilty person to death worth the risk of one innocent life?