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How often are innocent people given the death penalty in the United States?

On Behalf of | May 13, 2021 | Violent Crimes

Many countries outside of the U.S., as well as many states within the U.S., have outlawed the death penalty. Pennsylvania has not. Capital punishment is infrequent, but it is still used. 

There are many reasons that other governments have stopped using the death penalty, but one of the biggest is that they’re concerned with the accuracy of convictions. If someone is jailed for a crime they never committed, you can release them when new evidence comes to light. The death penalty, of course, does not offer any recourse. So just how accurate are the courts?

Mistakes happen in one out of every 25 cases

It’s hard to know exactly how many innocent people have been executed, as many of these errors will never be uncovered. But studies have at least shown that it’s unlikely that everyone on death row is actually guilty. 

Take one study, which said that just over 4% of people who are sentenced to capital punishment are actually innocent. That may seem like a small total, but it means that one out of every 25 people on “Death Row” has been wrongfully convicted. 

Sometimes, these cases get overturned. It can take years to work through the system, if not decades. New DNA evidence can turn up, for example, to clear someone’s name before the sentence is carried out. But it also stands to reason that many mistakes are never uncovered, the new evidence doesn’t come to light and people do not really see justice. 

This is why it’s so crucial to know about all of your legal options when facing such serious charges. We know well that mistakes are made. You need to know what to do next.