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Fatal Flaws: Innocence and the Death Penalty

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 1998
38 pages
This analysis of the likelihood that innocent people will be sentenced to death and executed concludes that even the extensive legal safeguards in the United States have failed to prevent wrongful death sentences, that the risk of lethal and irreversible error has increased in recent years, and thus that capital punishment should be abolished.
The execution of innocent defendants is an ever-present risk wherever the death penalty exists. Government officials in the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Turkey, Japan, and many other countries have acknowledged wrongful executions or have recently released condemned prisoners who were mistakenly convicted. The probability of executing an innocent person has alone prompted some politicians to abandon their support for capital punishment. It is unconscionable to inflict the punishment of death without the most stringent safeguards to protect the innocent. However, by its own admission, the United States has failed to maintain the safeguards required to reduce to a minimum the risk of wrongful death sentences and executions. Amnesty International's research confirms other findings about the fatal flaws in the current system. Amnesty International urges the complete elimination of the death penalty worldwide. Its recommendations for the United States are interim actions to reduce the risk of executing innocent people. These recommendations include full support for the American Bar Association decision calling for a total moratorium on all executions in the United States and the establishment of adequate legal safeguards at all stages of the death penalty process. Further recommended actions should become part of a comprehensive review of death penalty procedures in the United States. Case examples, photographs, and footnotes