Wrongful Capital Convictions

Authored by: Talia Roitberg Harmon , Diana Falco

Routledge Handbook on Capital Punishment

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  December  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138651579
eBook ISBN: 9781315624723
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315624723-33

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Abstract

The execution of an innocent person may be one of the most compelling issues surrounding capital punishment. Since the Supreme Court ruled that “death is different” and irreversible (Woodson v. NC, 1976, p. 305), research and discussions on wrongful capital convictions has become a very timely and extremely important topic. Since 2000, the number of people who have been released from death row due to innocence has grown. This growth has been significant over the last few decades. In fact, the most recent average suggests that there have been approximately 4.29 exonerations nationwide per year (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org, 1/3/17). Recent Gallup polls suggest that 60% of Americans currently support the death penalty (Gallup, 2017). This support has significantly declined by around 20% from the high of 80% in the mid-1990s (Kirchmeier, 2002). Scholars have posited that much of this decline may be attributable to the issue of wrongful capital convictions (Baumgartner, De Boef, & Boydstun, 2008; Unnever & Cullen, 2005; Harmon, Besch, Amendola, & Pehrson, 2016). The media has taken notice of the issue and has publicized exoneration cases, especially the exceptionally dramatic cases involving DNA evidence (Aronson & Cole, 2009; Scheck, Neufeld, & Dwyer, 2000; Garrett, 2008). This chapter will begin with a discussion of the various definitions of wrongful convictions. Next, evidence will be presented regarding the extent of the problem in the context of exonerations and wrongful executions. Third, the main causes of wrongful convictions and factors that led to the discovery of errors will be presented. Finally, the impact the innocence issue has had on overall death penalty public opinion will be discussed.

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