WASHINGTON, April 30 (RIA Novosti), Lyudmila Chernova – The United States is sentencing twice as many innocents to death than previously thought, Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center told RIA Novosti Wednesday.
“We have known that some people on death row were innocent, but now we learn that it’s twice as many as the system has found. It’s 4 percent instead of 1.6 percent. So, this is a wake-up call that we need to be more vigilant in the use of the death penalty,” Dieter said.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, points to a significant problem, that one out of every 25 death sentences could have been ruled incorrectly.
Dieter added that although some of the prisoners have been freed there is still a large class of people whose innocence has yet to be discovered and thus they might face unjust penalties such as life imprisonment or even execution.
“The study shows that a lot innocent people are buried, they are forgotten,” Dieter asserted, stressing that those who are in prison for life “are not getting the kind of scrutiny, review, or appeal that you would get if you remained on death row.”
“Some may have already been executed, some have been sent to prison for the rest of their lives, but there is a distinct possibility some are innocent,” Dieter said.
Dieter argued that there should be higher standards for convicting and sentencing somebody to death.
“The number of mistakes being made is twice as high, and these are human mistakes,” Dieter said.
“A murder does not have a victim who can say who did the crime, that’s by definition. So, murder cases depend on witnesses, who are not always reliable, as well as on police and prosecutors who might focus on the wrong person. And in death penalty cases they don’t want to admit that they may have the wrong person,” he added.
Although mistakes can never be completely eliminated from the criminal justice system, Dieter argued the problem of executing an innocent person can be eliminated by eliminating the death penalty and providing suspects with better representation.