Sunday, July 5, 2009

Exonerations and the Death Penalty

surface is hard. The crevasses allow the climber to gain footing. With each laborious movement the climber gets closer to his ultimate goal. Her goal is to reach the top, and the danger and difficulty are her obstacles. Her foot slips unexpectedly. She begins to fall, but the safety harness saves her life. She is safe, this error is not fatal.

What does that little story have to do with the death penalty as it is applied in the United States? Well the arguments put forth for the abolition of the death penalty are like saying that the climber’s harness working as designed is the reason rock climbing should be abolished. When I hear a story where a man has been truly exonerated for a crime he was convicted of I see it as another example of the ability of our system to rise above the fallibility of the human condition. The system worked. Now, the other side of this debate hangs on every reversal and claims exoneration anytime a conviction is overturned.

When a conviction is overturned it is usually sent back to the original trial court so it can be retried without the presence of the error found or in the light of new evidence. The investigation is renewed, and the District Attorney’s office then must re-file the case. Over the years, evidence deteriorates, evidence is lost, witnesses are hard to locate, and witnesses forget over time. A good portion of the time, the decision not to move forward has little to do with the new evidence or the difficulty overcoming the technical issue. In these cases, the defendant is not truly exonerated.

With the number of appeals afforded death row inmates today, the opportunities abound for a prisoner who is facing death to show the error and the proof that he was in fact innocent. With the advent of technology like DNA analysis, it is becoming easier than ever to gather new evidence. The truly innocent get a do-over, and are eventually (if not immediately) exonerated.

The other consequence of the advancing technology is an increased accuracy investigating new crimes. As time goes on the accuracy of the system will undoubtedly increase, which will lead to less innocent people being incarcerated. Unlike most proposed remedies for saving the innocent, the accuracy will come with only a limited number of guilty going free. Thus, protecting the community while ensuring the accuracy of the justice system.

In the end, the arguments for abolition actually end up proving that the death penalty in the United States is procedurally sound with increased accuracy of technology in investigation and the system of checks and balances employed today. This is further evidenced by the inability of Death penalty abolitionists to cite the name of one person who was actually proven to be wrongfully executed since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.


  1. The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents

    Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty?


    Enhanced Due Process - No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law. Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed. That is. logically, conclusive.

    Enhanced Incapacitation - To state the blatantly clear, living murderers, in prison, after release or escape, are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers. Although an obvious truism, it is surprising how often folks overlook the enhanced incapacitation benefits of the death penalty over incarceration.

    Enhanced Deterrence - 16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence. A surprise? No. Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life. Some believe that all studies with contrary findings negate those 16 studies. They don't. Studies which don't find for deterrence don't say no one is deterred, but that they couldn't measure those deterred.

    What prospect of a negative outcome doesn't deter some? There isn't one.

    Enhanced Fear - Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it's a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out. Reality paints a very different picture. What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment. What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment. What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.

    This is not, even remotely, in dispute.

    What of that more rational group, the potential murderers who choose not to murder, is it likely that they, like most of us, fear death more than life?

    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

    The False Promise - Part of the anti death penalty deception is that a life sentence, with no possibility of release, is a superior alternative to the death penalty. It's a lie. History tells us that lifers have many ways to get out: Pardon, commutation, escape, clerical error, change in the law, etc. There are few absolutes with sentencing. But, here are two: the legislature can lessen the sentences of current inmates, retroactively, and the executive branch can lessen any individual sentence, at any time. This has been, actively, pursued, for a number of years, in many states, because of the high cost of life sentences and/or geriatric care, found to be $60,000-$90,000 per year per inmate.

    Innocents released from death row: Some reality - Furthermore, possibly we have sentenced 25 actually innocent people to death since 1973, or 0.3% of those so sentenced. Those have all been released upon post conviction review. The anti death penalty claims, that the numbers are significantly higher, are a fraud, easily discoverable by fact checking. There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.

    In choosing to end the death penalty, or in choosing not implement it, some have chosen to spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives.

  2. Dustin, I am William Miller's sister, I admire your fight. Please keep me posted, as you are surely giving your brother a strong voice. People who disagree or are negative have not walked your path. There are certainly way to many avenues for the guilty and not near enought for the victims.
    Miracles still happen!


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