There has long been a debate over just how high a percentage of convicted criminals, especially those on death row, are wrongfully convicted. It’s very difficult to properly measure, of course. But a new study that applies a new methodology concludes that at least 4% of those put to death are innocent.
The study, the first of its kind, used a statistical method known as survival analysis. The method is usually used to determine the effectiveness of a medical treatment in reducing mortality rates.
Researchers were thus able to estimate the proportion of death row inmates whose innocence would have been established if they had stayed in prison and thus benefited from resources to defend themselves.
“Even if you are sentenced to death… the chance to be exonerated is much higher if you’re still on death row,” lead author Samuel Gross told AFP.
However, “the great majority of innocent people who are sentenced to death are never identified and freed.”
The researchers used data from the 7,482 people sentenced to death from January 1974 to December 2004.
Among that group, 12.6 percent were executed, 1.6 percent were exonerated, four percent died while on death row, 46.1 percent remained on death row and 35.8 percent were taken off death row but stayed in prison after their capital sentences or convictions were reversed or changed.
Based on the analysis showing a more than four percent error margin in trials, the study said it was “all but certain” that several of the 1,320 people executed since 1977 were in fact innocent.
“Most innocent defendants who have been sentenced to death have not been exonerated, and many — including the great majority of those who have been re-sentenced to life in prison — probably never will be,” it added.
Here’s what we can know for certain: If you actually review past convictions with an eye toward finding inconsistencies and problems, you find them. A lot of them. The reason why more false convictions have been found in Dallas, Texas is because D.A. Craig Watkins established an innocence department that does nothing but review past convictions. There’s no reason to believe that would not be the case everywhere else if only they bothered to look.
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