Death Penalty

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In the hit show Prison Break, Lincoln Burrows is put on death row for a murder he did not commit. Each week we saw firsthand, his frustration and the desperation of the situation he was in. This television show is a reality for the many innocent people that have been put on death row. Since 1993 there have been 138 defendants exonerated from their death sentence. The number of innocent people put to death is probably higher. Supporters of the death penalty say that the benefits of the death penalty outweigh the risk of executing innocent people. This is not true because the risks are too high, and the benefits too small. This high risk of mistakes occurring can be attributed to police errors, and problems with the judicial system. For these reasons, the death penalty should be abolished. The number of innocent people wrongly put on death row is staggering. In 2010 the Death Penalty Information Center, a non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment, released a report on capital punishment in the United States. They found that from 1973 – 1999 there was an average of 3.1 exonerations per year. From 2000 – 2007 this increased to 5 exonerations per year (2). This clearly shows that the risk of errors in our capital punishment system is increasing because more people are being wrongly sentenced to death. This increase in the risk of errors can be attributed to many different factors.

One is the pressure on police and prosecutors to solve notorious murders in a community. In 1983 10 –year old Jeannine Nicarico was abducted, raped, and murdered. After months of frustration with no indictments police and prosecutors used fabricated evidence to put the blame on two suspects Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez. They were put on death row and after years of appeals, in 1995 they were finally released. Following their release three prosecutors and four police officers were indicted for obstruction of justice (Terry). This shows how shoddy police work can lead to innocent people being sentenced to death. Other police related errors cause people to be wrongly sentenced to death. Often times when there is a murder, there are no eye witnesses. Police have to rely on other sources of evidence such as accomplices. In a capital murder case, evidence from accomplices should not be used in deciding life or death. The real killer has an incentive to put blame on others who might actually be completely innocent. In 2003 ex-mobster Salvatore Vitale was arrested. He admitted to participating in eleven murders and a host of other crimes but in exchange for information on other mob members and operations, he was sent into witness protection instead of serving jail time (Yakas). There is a chance that Salvatore was lying in order to lessen his punishment, so this method of obtaining evidence can lead to people being wrongly convicted, and sentenced to death. Confessions from the defendant are often compromised as well and can lead to people being wrongly sentenced to death. Studies conducted by researchers Richard Leo, and Richard Ofshe, of the University of San Francisco, and the University of California Berkeley, show that a confession by the defendant is not a dependable indicator of guilt. Police are taught to interrogate suspects in an accusatory manner with the suspect’s guilt in mind. Investigators often acquire confessions through manipulating and pressuring defendants into saying what they want to hear. This approach often leads to false confessions (189-90). While shoddy police work is a major cause of the increase errors in our capital punishment system, another major cause is our jury system. In death penalty cases the jury is quizzed on their position on the death penalty. Those who would never impose a death verdict are removed from the case. This procedure called death qualification was established in 1850 because jurors might have voted not guilty,...
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