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Death Penalty. Capital punishment in America

Updated on April 5, 2014

Error rates in Capital Cases

America or the United States is one of a few western democratic nations that retains the death penalty as sentencing options. Issues raised here conclude that the death penalty is seriously flawed in the American Criminal Justice system. These findings should be taken seriously,

Error Rates

The Death Penalty system in America is seriously flawed and the sentencing practice in my view should be abandoned immediately. It appears that the American Law Institute agrees with me. There have been and continues to be serious flaws in the conviction and sentencing of Capital crimes.

Academic 'peer reviewed' study

In a comprehensive study of capital cases conducted by 1Liebman et al asks whether the mistakes and miscarriages of justice known to have been made in individual capital case are isolated, or common? The answer provided by the study of 5,760 capital sentences and 4,578 appeals is that serious error—error substantially undermining the reliability of capital verdicts— has reached epidemic proportions throughout our death penalty system. More than two out of every three capital judgments reviewed by the courts during the 23-year study period were found to be seriously flawed.


Some of the findings of a National Study

  1. Capital sentence Cases spend so much time under and awaiting judicial review precisely because they are so persistently and systematically fraught with alarming amounts of error.

  2. Between 1973 and 1995, approximately 5,760 death sentences were imposed in the U.S.30 Only 313 (5.4%; one in 19) of those resulted in an execution during the period.

    Of the approximately 6,700 people sentenced to die between 1973 and 1999, only 598—less than one in eleven—were executed.71 About four times as many had their capital judgments overturned or gained clemency.

  3. Nationally, over the entire 1973-1995 period, theoverall error-rate in our capital punishment system was a whopping 68%.

  4. Egregiously incompetent defense lawyers (accounts for 37% of the state post-conviction reversals),

  5. Further (2) prosecutorial suppression of evidence that the defendant is innocent or does not deserve the death penalty.

  6. 82% (247 out of 301) of the capital Judgments that were reversed were replaced on retrial with a sentence less than death, or no sentence at all.


An example of error given by the researcher are thus. If what were at issue here was the fabrication of toasters (to return to our prior example), or the processing of social security claims, or the pre-takeoff inspection of commercial aircraft— or the conduct of any other private- or public-sector activity—neither the consuming and the taxpaying public, nor managers and investors, would for a moment tolerate the error-rates and attendant costs that dozens of states and the nation as a whole have tolerated in their capital punishment system for decades. Any system with this much error and expense would be halted immediately, examined, and either reformed or scrapped. The question this Report poses to taxpayers, public managers and policymakers, is whether that same response is warranted here, when what is at issue is not the content and quality of tomorrow’s breakfast, but whether society has a swift and sure response to murder, and whether thousands of men and women condemned for that crime in fact deserve to die.

Source Material

1James S. Liebman, Jeffrey Fagan & Valerie West

A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, (1973-1995)

published June 12, 2000. North Western University

Death Penalty Poll

Should the death penalty be abandoned in America ?

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    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 7 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Studies underscore the huge cost of killing convicted criminals as appeals and legal challenges draw out the process, sending bills skyrocketing. And new anxieties about getting the verdict absolutely right are adding further to the expense by pushing the average time that condemned prisoners spend on death row to 13 years, compared with half that in the 1980s: so long, in fact, that since 1983 more than 400 death row inmates have died of natural causes while waiting to be executed.

      A Maryland study suggested that a death sentence - with all the trials, appeals and incarceration that it entailed - cost the state $US3 million, and more if the prisoner failed to be executed, whereas a life sentence cost $US1 million. An Indiana study put the cost differential as high as 10 times, while an investigation by New Jersey, which abolished the death penalty in 2007, revealed the cumulative effect: it found that death sentences had cost taxpayers an extra $US253 million since 1983.

    • ladyjane1 profile image

      ladyjane1 7 years ago from Texas

      I do not agree with the death penalty especially at the rate they are putting minorities to death, at such a higher rate than whites...its ridiculous..interesting hub. Cheers.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 7 years ago from Queensland Australia

      thanks for your comment Nancy !

    • profile image

      Nancy Morgan 7 years ago

      (excerpt from my article)While the choice to commit murder is burdened with heavy consequences, is the right to put another to death through State law, inconsequential? Does putting another to death actually satisfy the murdered victim, the families, or have an effect on executioners who drop lethal injections or pull the trigger as will happen in June? Is capital punishment ever justified in a so-called civilized society?

      Nancy Morgan, Spiritual Examiner, Salt Lake City

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 7 years ago from Queensland Australia

      indedd that is the reason in my view deborah that the death penalty should be removed. & yes Ethel there lies the rub if 60% of case are proved to be flawed then the death penalty should be removed...

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 7 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Here in lies the rub. How to determine 100% that a person is guilty

    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander 7 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      Unfortunately, the judicial system, the political system in general, is flawed, and riddled with error, compromise, deceit and fraud. It's not typically the "rulers" who suffer, but the ruled.

      There is a reason common people revolt. They get tired injustice.


    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 7 years ago from Queensland Australia

      BJBensoon thanks for your comment ! :)

    • BJBenson profile image

      BJBenson 7 years ago from USA

      This is a hard issue. I knew the very first person that Jeffrey Dahmer killed. Jeffrey Dahmer was killed by an inmate. Beaten to death. You could say his peers killed him. However, I would rather he died by lethal injection. He had admitted to his crimes. It was a clear case.

      Because of human error some people are executed that should not be. DNA results have been saving some of the poor innocents.

      I wish that I thought their was a clear answer to this. But I do not think it is.

      Thank you for putting this information out here for everyone to read. It gives us all great thought.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 7 years ago from Queensland Australia

      AS it says here any other facet of government that failed so badly would be subjected to a Grand Jury...

    • profile image

      Website Examiner 7 years ago

      I am sure you are referring only to facts. It is my understanding that the death penalty lacks rational foundation, but is difficult to abolish due to the widespread support it enjoys on emotional and political grounds.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 7 years ago from Queensland Australia

      well yes and no. The research into the issue was done on facts. the opinion i have is emotionally driven on those disturbing facts...

    • profile image

      Website Examiner 7 years ago

      Informative hub, sounds like an interesting study. The issue is emotion-driven and political, to a large extent.

      Interestingly, the Canadian fellow hubber Immartin, whom I'd otherwise think of as fairly liberal and certainly quite intellectual, openly favors putting some convicted sex offenders to death.