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What if you knew that innocent people might sometimes be incorrectly convicted and sentenced to death?

Some people worry about the irrevocability of the death sentence. If a wrongful conviction is discovered after the sentence has been administered, nothing can be done to correct it.

A study by Columbia University examined every capital conviction and appeal between 1973 and 1995, revealing that the courts found serious, reversible error in nearly seven out of every 10 capital cases reviewed. According to the authors, common problems included "egregiously incompetent defense lawyers, prosecutorial misconduct (often the suppression of evidence of innocence), and faulty instructions to jurors."

DNA graphic

For some, this amount of error warrants reconsideration of the death penalty. In fact, the governor of Illinois issued a moratorium on the death penalty to study reversal rates. Critics of capital punishment point out that other states, and the federal government, continue to impose the death penalty despite similar rates of error. More than 90 percent of death sentencing states had reversal rates of more than 50 percent, including Texas at 52 percent, Florida at 72 percent and California at 87 percent, according to a study released in 2000.

"... DNA testing has opened a window to give us a disturbing view of the defects of capital punishment systems nationwide. Mounting evidence suggests that the cases in which DNA evidence has proven death row inmates innocent are just the tip of an iceberg of constitutional violations and wrongful convictions in death penalty cases."
—Senator Patrick Leahy, Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee

"At the same time, DNA aids the search for truth by exonerating the innocent. The criminal justice system is not infallible."
—Janet Reno

Newsweek cited the case of Charles Fain, who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl. Trial Judge James Doolittle was quoted as saying, "If I had had the slightest doubt, I certainly would not have imposed the death penalty." Eighteen years later, Fain was freed by DNA evidence.

Some are also concerned that not all defendants have access to the procedures involved in rendering the tests. And even if they do have access, critics point to flaws in recent cases that show DNA testing not to be 100 percent reliable; issues include unmonitored lab practices and human error in analysis.

Considering this, do you think the death penalty should be used
as a form of punishment for those convicted of taking a life?
YES  |  NO