Answers to Tough Questions

Provided by our partner, Equal Justice USA

People are Asking…

I hear about innocent people being freed from death row. Are they really innocent?
Is there any evidence that an innocent person has been executed in modern times?
I understand that innocent people were sentenced to death in the past. But now that there’s DNA, why doesn’t that take care of the problem?
I agree that we shouldn’t execute anyone where there is doubt. What about when we are 100% certain that the defendant is guilty?
You say that the appeals often don’t find the mistakes even though some people have been on death row for 20 years. What are all the appeals for if they’re not catching the innocent people?
You say the death penalty takes longer and is more expensive than any other sentence. If we repeal the death penalty, would the extra costs and time transfer to the next highest sentence?
Some say that life in prison without parole actually provides a more swift and certain penalty for murder. Isn’t death the most certain there is?
Why should the taxpayers have to pay for incarcerating someone for years on end? Isn’t it cheaper just to put someone to death?
Would the death penalty be cheaper if we just shortened the appeals process?
My state has not studied the cost of the death penalty. How can we know that our death penalty costs more than life without parole?
Even if the death penalty does cost more, can you put a price on justice?
You say the death penalty is 'arbitrary' and 'unfair.' What does that mean? If someone committed a crime isn’t it fair that they are punished?
You say the death penalty has failed because of all the innocent people who’ve been freed. Why don’t the reversals mean the system is working?
The death penalty is so infrequently used in my state, why is there a pressing need to repeal it?
Death penalty opponents often say that capital punishment isn’t a deterrent to crime while proponents say it is. Which is it?
Don’t we owe it to murder victims and their families to execute the person who took their loved one away?
Do we need the death penalty to keep someone who already has a life sentence from killing again in prison?
Do we need the death penalty to protect police officers?
Do prosecutors need the death penalty to secure plea bargains?
Do we need to keep the death penalty for terrorists?
What is a moratorium on executions? How is it different from repealing the death penalty?
  1. Judge Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, was eventually reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for her role in the execution of Michael Wayne Richards.
  2. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. described what had happened to death row inmate Corey Maples as “a veritable perfect storm of misfortune.”
  3. James Liebman et al, Los Tocayos Carlos.
  4. David Grann, “Trial by Fire. Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?” The New Yorker, September 7, 2009.
  5. “Non-DNA Exonerations,” Innocence Project.
  6. National Research Council of the National Academies, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward,” 2009.
  7. See, for example, the cases of Josiah Sutton, Timothy Durham, and Gilbert Alejandro.
  8. “Maryland’s Death Penalty. Still Here, Still Unfair. More Arbitrary and Costly.” Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, 2012.
  9. Ibid.
  10. James S. Liebman et al, A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995, Columbia Law School Journal, 2000.
  11. John Roman et al, The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland, Urban Institute, 2008. In California, a 2011 study showed that death penalty cases are 20 times more expensive. That state has spent over $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978. Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Paula M. Mitchell, “Executing the Will of the Voters?: A roadmap to mend or end the California legislature’s multi-billion dollar death penalty debacle,” 44 Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review S41, Special Issue, 2011.
  12. John Roman et al, “The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland,” Urban Institute, 2008.
  13. Murder rates based on the years 2001 to 2011. FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, cited by the Death Penalty Information Center.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock, “Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists,” Journal of Law and Criminology, 2008. General public’s views taken from Gallup poll, 2011. 64% of those polled say the death penalty is not a deterrent.
  16. National Research Council of the National Academies, “Deterrence and the Death Penalty,” 2012.
  17. Law enforcement murder rates based on the years 2002-2011. “Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed, Table 1,” FBI Uniform Crime Report, 2011.
  18. National Survey of Police Chiefs Report in Smart on Crime Death Penalty Information Center.
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