Since 1976, when capital punishment was reinstated, eighty-seven men and women have been taken off death row and freed because they were proven innocent. Since the turn of the century, 343 people have been wrongly convicted. Of these, 137 were sentenced to death, twenty-five were actually executed, sixty-one served more than ten years in jail, and seven died while in prison (Rein et al. 77). These figures raise the question: how many innocent people are on death row right now? Recent studies and new evidence suggest that some death row inmates awaiting execution may have been wrongly convicted. A twenty-three year study conducted by Columbia University Law Professor James S. Liebman states that "American capital sentences are so persistently and systematically fraught with error" (Liebman et al., par. 2). In "A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995," Liebman found that the overall rate of prejudicial error in the capital system was 68%.
Currently there are approximately 3,500 inmates on death row in thirty-eight states that have adopted the death penalty. Liebman's figure clearly indicates a possibility of some wrongful convictions in the cases of those still awaiting execution.
In order to impose the death sentence on a defendant, guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt. When it comes to matters of life and death, there should be no room for doubt in the minds of judges or juries. Defendants should be proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt in order to justify a death sentence. "In an execution in this country the test ought not to be reasonable doubt; the test ought to be is there any doubt." (Dieter, par. 27)
State and federal courts have found serious, reversible error in nearly seven of every ten of the thousands of capital punishment cases that have...