The statistics tell the story:
Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 170 men and women from 28 states have been exonerated and freed from death row.
On average, an exonerated death row survivor spends 11.5 years behind bars for crimes they did not commit.
For every nine prisoners executed, one innocent person was condemned to die and later exonerated.
How many other innocent people still await execution or have already been killed, meeting an unjust and undeserved fate?
THE FLAWED DEATH PENALTY SYSTEM
The death penalty is riddled with fatal errors, and the American criminal justice system provides no reliable safeguards against the execution of innocent people.
Our members were convicted and placed on death row due to issues including:
poor legal representation
the presentation of erroneous evidence
reliance on unreliable jailhouse snitches
A cross-referenced report by the Death Penalty Information Center & National Registry of Exonerations revealed that for death row exonerations between April 2007 and 2017, every case involved some combination of official misconduct, perjury or false accusation, or false forensic evidence. 91.2% of the cases had multiple contributing factors and 47.1% had three or more contributing causes.
Research from the Death Penalty Information Center has shown that non-unanimous jury decisions have been involved in many cases of wrongful conviction that led to a death sentence. The data shows that one or more jurors had voted for life in more than 90% of the death-row exonerations in states, Alabama, Delaware, and Florida, that permitted judges to impose death sentences based on a jury’s non-unanimous sentencing recommendations or allowed them to override jury votes for life. To read the full report, click here.
To learn more about our members’ cases, reasons for wrongful incarceration, and exoneration stories, click here.
Once convicted, a death row prisoner faces enormous obstacles in convincing the courts that he or she is innocent.
When they are able to prove their innocence and gain exonerated status, it is almost always due to extrajudicial factors -- the tireless work of journalists, students, non-profit organizations, or dedicated attorneys, not the appeals process.
Innocent people are freed from death row not because of the system, but in spite of it.
One common misconception, nicknamed the “CSI Effect,” is that all exonerations happen because of DNA evidence or scientific breakthroughs. Though forensics does play a role in some exonerations, many death row survivors earn their freedom after false testimonies are recanted, police misconduct is exposed, withheld evidence is revealed, and more.
The imposition of the death penalty is a grotesque human rights violation in a nation founded on the principles of justice and civil liberties. It is even more appalling that death sentences are handed out to innocent citizens.
As long as the death penalty remains a part of the American justice system, innocent people will continue to be sentenced to death, and some will be executed. It is inevitable.
Ultimately, the abolition of the death penalty is the only guaranteed protection against such tragic mistakes.
“You can release an innocent man from prison, but you can’t release him from the grave.”
- Freddie Lee Pitts, Florida death row exoneree
For more statistics and information, click here for a list of resources compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.