How Many Innocent People Are On Death Row?

Innocent People Are On Death Row

The answer to the question above is too many. However, there hasn’t been a way to really prove that answer until now.

A study that was released this week has been sending cold shivers down the neck of everyone who reads it.

If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time, you will know how often we highlight the falsely convicted. The truth is the conviction of the innocent happens far too often.

In fact, in our recently published article, Why You Need to Hire an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney, we broke down 3 cases where Americans were sentenced to prison and then later released because they were proven innocent.

In one case, that innocence wasn’t proven for 40 years.

Thankfully, here in Michigan, the death penalty was short-lived. For more on Michigan’s history with the death penalty, please check out our article, History of the Death Penalty in Michigan.

While one person was executed in Michigan since joining the union due to and execution by the federal government, the State of Michigan hasn’t convicted someone of the death penalty since it became a state on January 26th, 1837.

That is why when I saw the headline of a recent article published by The Huffington Post, my stomach dropped and since reading it has left me with a sick feeling.

According to a study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, between the years 1973 and 2004 it is likely that 1 out of every 25 death row inmates was indeed innocent.

The “Conservative Estimate”

The “conservative estimate” is 4.1 percent. Even more sickening in the same timeline is that only 1.6 percent of death row inmates were actually exonerated.

“We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States.”

Breaking down these two numbers means that there should have been more than double the amount of people exonerated.

Exonerated Defined

The classic Webster’s Dictionary defines being exonerated as:

  • “To prove that someone is not guilty of a crime or responsible for a problem, bad situation, etc.”
  • “To relieve of a responsibility, obligation, or hardship”
  • “To clear from accusation or blame”

340 Innocent Prisoners

Over those 3 decades, the authors reviewed the conclusions of 7,482 sentences. Out of the 7,482, only 1.6% or 144 were exonerated. The study said that number, when estimated conservatively, should be closer to 4.1% or 340 innocent death row prisoners.

About the Study – Knowing What Some said was Not Knowable

Let’s take a moment to look into the study, answering questions like, “how did they come to this disastrous conclusion?”

Prior to the publication of this research, the ability to determine just how many wrongly convicted death row inmates there were had not only gone unanswered but even un-approached.

There had never been a great way to decode the actual number and there are not that many actual over-turned convictions.

According to the Scientific American, the team of lawyers and statisticians used the same statistical methodology that is used to help determine whether or not a new medical treatment will help patients survive.

The team studied the 7,482 defendants that were sentenced to the death penalty between the years 1973-2004. They then applied the statistical method mentioned above.

The study is proving that if all the inmates had remained on death row indefinitely, instead of reducing their sentence to life in prison, then 4.1 percent of those prisoners would have been exonerated.

Remember the definition of exonerated is to prove someone is not guilty.

When an inmate is moved from the death row sentence to life in prison sentence, his or her chances of being exonerated is reduced.

The Truth…

The truth is that if one person is wrongfully convicted, that is one too many.

While Michigan residents are not facing the death penalty, they could face life in prison. We know that it is even more difficult to prove innocence when someone is sentenced to life in prison.

If you or someone you know and love is facing their freedom being reduced or limited, arm yourselves with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Please call my office at your earliest convenience.

248-348-7400 or 586-530-1000