There was an excellent article in The Atlantic magazine on the likelihood of executing innocent people in the USA, and the terrible flaws in our justice system. It's full of outrage, and the author makes many chilling points:
Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, in 1976, more than eighty death-row inmates have been freed from prison, their convictions overturned by evidence of innocence. That may not sound like many, given the huge U.S. prison population, but it is more than one percent of the 6,000 men and women who were sentenced to death in that same period, and equal to almost 15 percent of those actually executed.
Probably many more of the death-row inmates are actually innocent, but don't have the strong evidence of innocence required to vacate their convictions.
A 1996 Justice Department report, Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, found that in 8,048 rape and rape-and-murder cases referred to the FBI crime lab from 1988 to mid-1995, a staggering 2,012 of the primary suspects were exonerated owing to DNA evidence alone.
There is no logical reason to think that police-error rates in criminal investigations lacking DNA evidence are any better than the 25 percent error rate in those where it is present.
And the public defenders do a shockingly cursory job of defending people in capital cases, where there a risk they might be sentenced to death. The money available for the public defenders is terribly inadequate.
So the death penalty specifically involves the victimization of people who have little money. It's also applied in a way that victimizes black people.
The article makes good suggestions for reforming the system.
I've watched a lot of Dateline crime shows on Youtube. Many of them are about people who were found guilty of murder with little evidence, and the show doesn't convince me the person is guilty, and they probably didn't leave out major evidence.
So I ask myself, how common is this? Dateline is looking for interesting shows, and it's interesting when someone who could well be innocent is convicted. So there's a bias.
But reading the Atlantic article makes me think wrongful convictions are much more common than we would like to believe. And also, executions of people who are innocent. Edward Earl Johnson was a young black man convicted of murder who was executed in 1987. Many legal observers believe he was innocent, and the prison warden who arranged for his execution, believed him to be innocent. There's a BBC documentary about the last 2 weeks of his life.
The system is broken. Prosecutors are judged based on how many convictions they get, not how many of those convicted are actually guilty. Procedure is more important than actual evidence, and the jury is often swayed by something as simple as how the defendant looks. It isn't just flawed, the system itself is on glaring flaw, and no one seems interested in fixing it.