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.
You got that right Fran.
The movie "West of Memphis" is available free online. It's a documentary about the West Memphis Three. They were 3 young guys who were convicted of the murder of 3 young boys, with no real evidence. One of them was on Death Row in Arkansas for many years. He was a Satanist and there was a wave of hysteria about ritual cult murders in the USA at the time. This was in the "Bible belt", which has a lot of prejudice against any alternative religion.
They had experts testify about Satanism and how the wounds on the boys, including an amputated penis, were cult-connected.
In reality it seems the wounds were probably made by animals, like large snapping turtles, eating the boys after their corpses were thrown into the water.
The apparent real killer was never charged.
Criminal "justice" can be so prejudiced!
I spent a lot of time in self-help groups for abuse survivors in the early 1990's, when these murders happened. There was a lot of talk about satanism and ritual abuse. Some of which I later decided was people being delusional. I didn't realize there was a "satanic ritual abuse" craze going on.
Here's another case. It's about someone who did something truly evil, slimy - call it all the bad names you can think of and they still would not be enough.
But the person who did that thing doesn't seem to be the same person as the one who was convicted.
I agree with you on " West of Memphis" and it also seems like the real killer in "House on Sumac Drive" had to be someone else. Often I don't understand the justice system. People do wierd things to gain closure and to achieve promotion.
1. I believe that wilful withholding of evidence should be a punishable crime.
2. I believe that all cases should go by the actual evidence and also include all DNA evidence when possible.
Heresay and eyewitness accounts cannot disprove the DNA evidence. DNA must be used in every case even if they have a confession.
People are very liable to think they can get useful info about someone's guilt or innocence from how they sounded on a 911 call, from details about their behavior, etc.
Even when there's a confession, the police need to take care to check the confession. If someone knows details about the murder that weren't publicized, then the confession is probably for real. If they get the details wrong, or the police have been feeding them details that they incorporate into their confession, then the confession may be false.
People don't understand how someone could make a false confession, but there are interrogation techniques that tend to produce false confessions. Such as asking the person to imagine what happened - then their imagined scenario can be misrepresented as a confession. Or telling someone that the police have evidence they were at the murder scene - so they must be repressing their memory. If someone has a fragile sense of reality, if they are stressed and sleepless, if they are intimidated by police, they may construct a false memory of doing the murder, and even believe it after the interrogation ends. That was what happened to Amanda Knox. She didn't confess to doing the murder, but she did temporarily persuade herself that she had been at the murder scene, after such coercive tactics were used by the police. This caused a lot of people to think she had done it.
It's a kind of divination similar to graphology, where supposedly someone's handwriting gives info about their personality.
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.