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About Innocence

While 1465 of those sentenced to die have been executed in the united states since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, another 160 have been cleared of their crimes.
The Death Penalty is Riddled with Fatal Errors


Since 1973, 160 people in 28 states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. On average, an exonerated death row survivor spends 11.3 years behind bars.


If the imposition of the death penalty is a grotesque contradiction in a nation founded on principles of justice, human rights, and civil liberties, it is even more appalling when death sentences are handed out to innocent citizens. The American criminal justice system is failing to protect innocent people from being wrongfully convicted and sent to death row.


For every nine prisoners executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, one innocent person was condemned to die and later exonerated. How many other innocents still await execution or have already gone to their deaths?


The American criminal justice system provides no reliable safeguards against the execution of innocent people. The death penalty is riddled with fatal errors because of:

• poor legal representation 
• racial prejudice 
• prosecutorial misconduct 
• the presentation of erroneous evidence 
• false confession 
• junk science 
• reliance on unreliable jailhouse snitches 
• eyewitness error


Once convicted, a death row prisoner faces enormous obstacles in convincing the courts that he or she is innocent.

Death penalty supporters contend that the release of so many innocent people from death row is evidence that “the system works,” and that new technologies and advancement in forensic sciences prevent irreversible mistakes from being made.


Nothing could be further from the truth.


When death row prisoners are exonerated, it is almost always due to extrajudicial factors. Tireless work of dedicated attorneys or investigations by journalists and students get people exonerated, not the appeals process. Innocent people are freed from death row not because of the system, but in spite of it.


As long as the death penalty remains a part of the American justice system, innocent people will continue to be sentenced to death. Some will be executed. It is inevitable. Ultimately, the abolition of the death penalty is the only guaranteed protection against such tragic mistakes.


A common misconception is that all exonerations happen because of DNA evidence or scientific breakthroughs (we call it the CSI Effect).


The Death Penalty Information Center provides a wealth of data about the death penalty. Some highlights:

List of exonerations since 1973

Causes of wrongful convictions

Death row exonerations by state

Death row exonerations by race

Cases of probable innocence 

Executed despite doubts about guilt

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