NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Death Penalty Update

September 13, 1999

Opponents of the death penalty argue that it victimizes people who are later found to have been innocent of a crime, and who were wrongfully convicted in the first place. They claim that one "innocent" person is freed from death row for every seven who are executed.

But critics say those numbers don't mean that people are being wrongfully executed for crimes they didn't commit. They argue that reversals of convictions actually demonstrate that the system works.

Since 1973, when the Supreme Court revised guidelines to resume executions, 5,997 death sentences have been imposed.

  • Of that number, 567 persons were executed through Sept. 1, 1999.
  • There were 1,642 reversals of sentences or convictions through January 1, 1999.
  • In 76 cases, the sentences were commuted to life in prison.
  • In 163 of the cases, the prisoner died of natural causes, was murdered or committed suicide.

That leaves a total of 3,549 persons remaining on death row as of the first of this year, according to data from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Source: Frank J. Murray, "Death-Row Foes Cite 'Innocents,'" Washington Times, September 12, 1999.


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