More Innocent Defendants Sentenced To Death Than You Might Have Thought

In my most recent post, I described the miscarriage of justice in the case of New York vs. Jonathan Fleming. Fleming, a 51- year-old convicted murderer, was in the process of serving his 25th year of a 25 years to life sentence when he was recently released.  Turns out, he was innocent, just as he passionately alleged during his trial 25  years ago.

Cases like his make me think about all those other wrongfully convicted defendants.  Additionally, I ponder about those who are on death row, facing the ultimate sanction for crimes they did not commit.  While a single defendant falsely convicted is too many, I wish we knew an exact number.

A newly released study has created quite a stir, not only amongst those in the anti-death penalty community.  According to the study, more than four percent of inmates who are sentenced to death in the U.S. are probably innocent.  The researchers are calling their estimate a “conservative” one, noting that the number of capital defendants who were exonerated over the past thirty years is actually double (8%).  Researchers claim that the purpose of their study was to account for those innocent defendants who, unlike Jonathan Fleming, are never exonerated. 

The authors of the study reviewed the outcomes of the 7,482 death sentences given out from 1973 to 2004.  From that group, 117 were exonerated.  That’s 1.6 percent.  The researchers concluded that at least 4.1 percent of death row inmates would have ultimately been exonerated with sufficient additional time and resources.  That equates to another 200 death row inmates being cleared during those three decades.

Bottom line, innocent people are languishing in both the general prison population and on death row.  The recently released numbers should spark additional renewed dialogue and debate concerning the death penalty and the Criminal Justice System.  I’m not advocating any particular position.  I just want the facts to be out there.