Friday, October 10, 2008

The Innocence Project

In the comments yesterday, Patrick Collins left us a link to The Innocence Project.

The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University to assist prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing. To date, 222 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 17 who served time on death row. These people served an average of 12 years in prison before exoneration and release.

Patrick said the Death Penalty should be abolished. "If even one person is wrongly convicted and executed that should be reason enough to get rid of it. There is ample substantiation this happens." I agree absolutely. It doesn't take a statistician to extrapolate from the figures above and work backwards. Innocent people have been executed.

Another thing The Innocence Project lawyers are working on is proper compensation for the exonerated people. Twenty-five states have no benefits at all, many of the other 25 offer inadequate compensation.

But how do you compensate people whose lives have been disrupted by a wrongful conviction? Are the errors that produced those convictions being examined for wrongdoing on the part of prosecutors, judges and law enforcement personnel? Remember the case in Texas, a Capital case in which the female judge was having an affair with the district attorney? Nothing wrong there, they decided.

Another question I have is this: if somehow we could be certain that no wrongful conviction would ever take place, would we then be in favor of the Death Penalty? I say no. I oppose Capital Punishment because it's wrong, morally wrong. Never executing innocent people would be a side benefit of abolition. By abolishing the Death Penalty we eliminate the awful moral inconsistency of telling people that shouldn't kill one another, but if they do, sanctioning the government to do just that.

What do you think?


  1. The Death Penalty Provides More Protection for Innocents
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
    Often, the death penalty dialogue gravitates to the subject of innocents at risk of execution. Seldom is a more common problem reviewed. That is, how innocents are more at risk without the death penalty.
    To state the blatantly clear, living murderers, in prison, after release or escape, are much more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers.
    Although an obvious truism, it is surprising how often  folks overlook the enhanced incapacitation benefits of the death penalty over incarceration.
    No knowledgeable and honest party questions that the death penalty has the most extensive due process protections in US criminal law.
    Therefore, actual innocents are more likely to be sentenced to life imprisonment and more likely to die in prison serving under that sentence, that it is that an actual innocent will be executed.
    That is. logically, conclusive.
    16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, find for death penalty deterrence.
    A surprise? No.
    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.
    Some believe that all studies with contrary findings negate those 16 studies. They don't. Studies which don't find for deterrence don't say no one is deterred, but that they couldn't measure those deterred.
    What prospect of a negative outcome doesn't deter some? There isn't one . . . although committed anti death penalty folk may say the death penalty is the only one.
    However, the premier anti death penalty scholar accepts it as a given that the death penalty is a deterrent, but does not believe it to be a greater deterrent than a life sentence. Yet, the evidence is compelling and un refuted that death is feared more than life.
    Some death penalty opponents argue against death penalty deterrence, stating that it's a harsher penalty to be locked up without any possibility of getting out.
    Reality paints a very different picture.
    What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
    What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
    What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.
    This is not, even remotely, in dispute.
    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.
    Furthermore, history tells us that lifers have many ways to get out: Pardon, commutation, escape, clerical error, change in the law, etc.
    In choosing to end the death penalty, or in choosing not implement it, some have chosen to spare murderers at the cost of sacrificing more innocent lives.
    Furthermore, possibly we have sentenced 25 actually innocent people to death since 1973, or 0.3% of those so sentenced. Those have all been released upon post conviction review. The anti death penalty claims, that the numbers are significantly higher, are a fraud, easily discoverable by fact checking.
    6 inmates have been released from death row because of DNA evidence. An additional 9 were released from prison, because of DNA exclusion, who had previously been sentenced to death.
    The innocents deception of death penalty opponents has been getting exposure for many years. Even the behemoth of anti death penalty newspapers, The New York Times,  has recognized that deception.
    To be sure, 30 or 40 categorically innocent people have been released from death row . . . (1) This when death penalty opponents were claiming the release of 119 "innocents" from death row. Death penalty opponents never required actual innocence in order for cases to be added to their "exonerated" or "innocents" list. They simply invented their own definitions for exonerated and innocent and deceptively shoe horned large numbers of inmates into those definitions - something easily discovered with fact checking.
    There is no proof of an innocent executed in the US, at least since 1900.
    If we accept that the best predictor of future performance is past performance, we can reasonable conclude that the DNA cases will be excluded prior to trial, and that for the next 8000 death sentences, that we will experience a 99.8% accuracy rate in actual guilt convictions. This improved accuracy rate does not include the many additional safeguards that have been added to the system, over and above DNA testing.
    Of all the government programs in the world, that put innocents at risk, is there one with a safer record and with greater protections than the US death penalty?
    Full report -All Innocence Issues: The Death Penalty, upon request.
    Full report - The Death Penalty as a Deterrent, upon request
    (1) The Death of Innocents: A Reasonable Doubt,
    New York Times Book Review, p 29, 1/23/05, Adam Liptak,
    national legal correspondent for The NY Times

    copyright 2007-2008, Dudley Sharp
    Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas
    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
    Pro death penalty sites   (Sweden)

  2. Dudley,

    I think you sent me the exact same message a few months ago.

    My question to you is, if the death penalty is such a deterrent, why are there so many people on death row?

    For me the answer is that it's not a deterrent. Criminals are the greatest optimists in the world. They don't think they'll get caught; especially not while committing their crime. What do you say about that?

  3. Mikeb:

    You may have a misunderstanding of deterrence. All prospects of a negative outcome deter some, not all.

    The recent studies (you should read them) find that from 3-28 (I believe) are deterred per execution. That is a lot of innocont lives saves, but, sadly, doesn't come close to stopping all murderers.

    Criminals are fearful of being caught, because they fear sanction. That is why they try to commit their crimes without being seen and are wary to leave the crime scene undectected.

    For the same reasons. some potential criminals do not commit crimes, because they fear sanction.

    No all, of course, some. It is the same for all fears and all things that deter. Some people will be affected more than others.

    For some of the recent 16 deterrence studies, go to:

    US Senate testimony

  4. dudley's logic seems wide open for a reductio ad absurdum. to wit, if the death penalty is such a great deterrence, and if deterrence is such a valuable thing, why not use it for every crime? deter them all.

    it's also a purely utilitarian argument; kill a few individuals for the greater good of society. i've despised purely-utilitarian ethical systems ever since reading Brave New World; i do not necessarily put the group ahead of the individual, not at just any cost.

  5. Nomen:

    As I stated, above, no deterrent is near absolute.

    Furthermore, most people, such as myself, support the death penalty for certain crimes, not all crimes, regadless of the deterrent effect.

    I don't support the death penalty for utilitarian reasons.

    I support the death penalty because I find it just and appropriate for some crtimes and, secondarilty, as an effect of the death penalty, it also spares more innocent lives.

    Nomen, you wrongly presumed otherwise.

    There are some excellent moral/ethical writings supportive of the death penalty. Here are a few. I hope you have the chance to read them.

    (1) John Stuart Mill, speech on the death penalty

    (2)"The Death Penalty", by Romano Amerio, a faithful Catholic Vatican insider, scholar, professor at the Academy of Lugano, consultant to the Preparatory Commission of Vatican II, and a peritus (expert theologian) at the Council.

    titled "Amerio on capital punishment ", Chapter XXVI, 187. The death penalty, from the book Iota Unum, May 25, 2007

    (3) Immanuel Kant, "The Right of Punishing", inclusive of the death penalty

    (4) "Capital Punishment: A Catholic Perspective",
    by Br. Augustine (Emmanuel Valenza)

    (5) "Defending Capital Punishment" by William Gairdner

    (6) "Capital Punishment: The Case for Justice", Prof. J. Budziszewski, First Things, August / September 2004 found

    (7) Just Violence: An Aristotelian Justification of Capital Punishment

    (8) "Catholic and other Christian References: Support for the Death Penalty", at

    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail, 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas

    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

  6. Dudley, Thanks for the more personalized comment.

    I have to agree with Nomen, however. I think yours is a kind of circular and utilitarian argument, especially that part about killing off a few for the good of the many. I can't really go for that.

  7. mikeb:

    The position is neither circular nor utilitarian.

    I support the death penalty because I find it just and appropriate.

    It has the additional, secondary benefit of saving more innocent lives.

    I would support it without the secondary benefit.

    I believe all legal sanctions have that secondary benefit. Have you ever slowed down becuae you though you might get a speeding ticket?

  8. and i oppose the death penalty because i find it unjustified and inappropriate. that would seem to put me and dudley at an impasse.

    now, i've previously gone into the reasons why i find it unjustified, on Mike's old blog. i don't really want to copy and paste all that logic over here, but i'm still willing to stand by it.

  9. Nomen, on the linked site, you wrote:

    "my opposition to the death penalty has nothing to do with the convicted deserving to die. most of them surely do. i oppose it because we don’t deserve to kill them."

    You believe they deserve to die. Based upon what? But, you say we don't "deserve" to execute them? Please explain.

    You say incarceration is OK. Why?

  10. most of those questions i already went into some length on, in the linked thread.

    that a convicted prisoner "deserves" some punishment or other is a value judgement i make based on what crime they committed and how credible i find the evidence presented against them. this is almost certainly the same judgement, made the same way, as i imagine you yourself use to decide the same question.

    whether we "deserve" to mete out some punishment or other is, as i mentioned in that thread, perhaps not the best choice of words. the core idea is this: just because a prisoner deserves some punishment or other is not, in and of itself, sufficient cause to make it justified for us to mete that punishment out.

    i'm not interested solely in what a convicted criminal deserves to be punished with. let's say s/he deserves punishments X, Y and Z, and that this is settled. i then ask where we, the rest of us, get any moral right to perform X, Y and Z acts upon that prisoner.

    for instance, i can imagine crimes so heinous that the criminal would - in my own opinion - deserve to be tortured to death for them. but it would, of course, still be insanely reckless of us as a society to actually start torturing people to death! there are any number of excellent reasons why that would be antisocial, tyrannous, and detrimental to social order and peace. (the fact that we, as a country, apparently do occasionally torture prisoners to death is cause for severe alarm, not justification for anything.)

    ...that's still a secondary reason, though. the main point is this: person A doing bad thing X does not always and automatically justify (as in, make just, make morally acceptable) person B doing painful thing Y to person A in response. certainly not for all values of X and Y, not necessarily even for any of them. a justification has to be more advanced, more reasoned, than merely "but s/he hurt me first".

    incarceration is (usually) acceptable for a number of reasons. one, it is sufficient to serve the needs of the rest of society; it removes dangerous people from the rest of us, protects those of us who these criminals might otherwise victimise. two, it's reversible; if we find we've made a mistake in incarcerating somebody, we can set them free again. three, it allows for at least the possibility of rehabilitating criminals. i realize that few of them ever do rehabilitate themselves, but the option is one that ought to be left open for as long as possible. four, as far as i can tell, it appears to be the minimal means that accomplishes all these necessary and desirable ends; it does not use needless amounts of force to do what must be done. a society using forcible means against its own members always has a distasteful smell of tyranny to it, so that should be kept to a minimum.