(Scott Shafer/KQED)

A new study published by the National Academy of Sciences attempts to answer a question at the heart of the capital punishment debate: How many innocent people are sentenced to death? Based on a statistical analysis, the study’s authors estimate that 4.1 percent of those sentenced to death are innocent. We discuss the study and its implications.

Guests:
Samuel Gross, professor of law at the University of Michigan, co-founder and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations and co-author of "The Rate of False Convictions Among Criminal Defendants Who are Sentenced to Death"

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    A friend of a friend’s husband was a heroin user. His wife found him one morning sitting dead on the toilet with a needle still in his arm. This overdose type of death occurs so quickly that junkies can’t pull out their syringes – why not use heroin as the death drug? We also know that doctors in terminal cases will simply increase the morphine drip until the patient passes away – a form of dont ask, dont tell euthanasia. So why these complicated, never tried before fercockta cocktails? They are certainly unusual, and too often cruel.

  • Sean

    Please differentiate between “innocent” and wrongfully convicted. Some prisoners are guilty of a crime yet with botched investigations or trials. Some are guilty of other crimes (e.g. the driver, not the shooter). Few of those “innocents” are completely guilt free, honest citizens.

  • Sean

    Holding corrupt or incompetent police and district attorneys accountable would eliminate the vast majority of wrongful convictions. Start there.

    • Fay Nissenbaum

      thank you. Corrupt police and prosecutors conspire with no repercussions even when caught.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Blackstone said way back in the 1700s, “”It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”. There are many versions of Blackstone’s statement which shows how widely held a belief it is… As children, I recall us debating the death penalty, and we concluded that one wrong conviction should mean no death penalty ever again. The thought that an innocent person could go mistakenly to the executioner was absolutely, inconceivably abhorent. We now know that has happened, despite the accused having a jury of peers. We know that police and prosecutors lie often by employing jailhouse snitches that will tell a story to juries scripted by corrupt unscrupulous so-called ‘public servants’. One such abuse is criminal – yet we know this horror continues…These revelations have turned me away from supporting the death penalty in clear cases. Analyzed in pure economic terms, the death penalty is too expensive to justify.

    • Sean

      That’s an impractical philosophy. You can never be absolutely sure of any conviction so you would never be able to put anyone in prison.

      In the real world you have to take at least some risk that an innocent person will be punished. We can then reasonably discuss what that error rate should be, but it is certainly not zero.

      • Mjhmjh

        There is, of course, one crucial difference. Once s/he’s been executed, the wrongfully convicted person cannot currently be resurrected and released.

  • Sara

    Our legal system needs to be more consistent. Too many people get a variety of sentences, for the same horrible offenses. Each state should NOT be allowed to pick different options. Having our countries punishment be ALL the same will send a more direct message. The error rates of people being innocent is sad, and there definitely needs to be a streamline consistent process on how everything is done; from police departments, interviews, collecting evidence to the courtroom. Too many exceptions are making these problems.

    • Sean

      I disagree. One of the benefits of our federal system is that each state is an independent experiment and gives us the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t.

    • Mjhmjh

      It’s not only sentences. To a very large extent, one’s likelihood of conviction depends on the amount of money and/or power and influence one has.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Does anyone disagree that the best use of the death penalty would be to apply it to PLEDGE BREAKS ?!!!

  • Jaime Mito Longoria

    Are most of these exonerations cases that went to trial or were there also guilty pleas entered?

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