Guilty Until Proven Innocent: An Analysis of Post-Furman Capital Errors

By Talia Roitberg Harmon / Criminal Justice Policy Review, on 1 January 2001

The issue of erroneous convictions in capital cases has recently gained considerable nationwide media attention. This article builds on prior research by examining 76 cases of inmates who were released from death rows between 1970 and 1998 because of doubts about their guilt. By using sources, or persons who have extensive insider knowledge about these cases, as well as published court opinions, it was possible to identify the causes of the wrongful convictions as well as the significant events that led to the discovery of the miscarriages of justice. The data indicate that prosecutorial misconduct, perjury of witnesses, police misconduct, and racial discrimination were influential factors that led to the wrongful convictions. In addition, continued investigation by the defense attorney, new witnesses coming forward, and/or a confession from another person were the factors most often leading to the discovery of errors. These findings suggest that there have not been any significant changes in causes of erroneous convictions since the implementation of contemporary safeguards. As a result, policy changes are suggested to decrease the chances of erroneous executions.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Innocence,