POLS 3700 Lecture Notes - Occupational Hazard

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Exonerations
Basic human error is always an occupational hazard of the criminal justice system, but it
seems flippant to allow that error to determine the life or death of another human being.
Importantly, error in conviction is actually disproportionately common in death penalty cases.
Studies have found that “death sentences represent less than one-tenth of 1% of prison sentences
in the United States, but they accounted for about 12% of known exonerations of innocent
defendants from 1989 through early 2012” (Gross, et al. 2014). Since 1973 when current death
penalty laws were established, 143 people death row inmates were exonerated (Gross, et al.
2014). Considering that wrongful conviction data, by nature, is difficult to acquire, it is
impossible to tell how many innocent Americans have been killed by lethal injection. But based
on the data above, we know that our justice system has at the very least sentenced innocent
people to death.
Deterrence
Many advocates of the death penalty believe that such an act sends such a powerful
message as to deter other people from committing murder. Critics, although, insist that this is a
more prevalent myth about the death penalty. Samuel Walker (2001) characterizes the myth of
deterrence as a crime-control theology because it rests on faith rather than facts. There have been
numerous empirical studies that fail to correlate capital punishment and deterrence. The debate
over deterrence and capital punishment began with an article written by Isaac Ehrlich in 1975. In
the article, Ehrlich declared that every execution prevented eight murderers from committing the
act. This created a huge societal shift towards pro death penalty. In the years following, many
scientists questioned this research and performed replications. Ehrlich’s research did not pass the
test (Bowers and Pierce, 1975).
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Document Summary

Basic human error is always an occupational hazard of the criminal justice system, but it seems flippant to allow that error to determine the life or death of another human being. Importantly, error in conviction is actually disproportionately common in death penalty cases. Studies have found that death sentences represent less than one-tenth of 1% of prison sentences in the united states, but they accounted for about 12% of known exonerations of innocent defendants from 1989 through early 2012 (gross, et al. Since 1973 when current death penalty laws were established, 143 people death row inmates were exonerated (gross, et al. Considering that wrongful conviction data, by nature, is difficult to acquire, it is impossible to tell how many innocent americans have been killed by lethal injection. But based on the data above, we know that our justice system has at the very least sentenced innocent people to death.

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