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How Many People Are Wrongly Convicted? Researchers Do the Math.

Is there a more tragic story than an innocent person going to prison? Tragic, and powerful. That’s why The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most beloved movies of our time. And why we’ve all heard of this quote from an esoteric 18th-century English guy, William Blackstone: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” And why real-life stories of the exonerated always make headlines. Here’s the first line of a Washington Post story about Glenn Ford, who was exonerated last month:

“My sons, when I left, was babies,” Louisiana’s longest-serving death row inmate told reporters after his release late Tuesday. “Now they’re grown men with babies.”

It hits you in the gut. You first think about this particular person, this man who lost his family, who spent decades in some awful cell believing he was going to be electrocuted. And then you think that other frightening thought, the bugaboo lurking behind all exoneration stories: How many other Glenn Fords are still behind bars? How many will die there? Just how often does our venerated justice system fail?

Rarely, at least according to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In a 2006 opinion he cited an approximate error rate of 0.027 percent, based on back-of-the-envelope calculations by an Oregon district attorney in a fiery op-ed for the New York Times. The op-ed was in response to a report by Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan, cataloguing 340 exonerations between 1989 and 2003. “Let’s give the professor the benefit of the doubt,” the op-ed read. “Let’s assume that he understated the number of innocents by roughly a factor of 10, that instead of 340 there were 4,000 people in prison who weren’t involved in the crime in any way. During that same 15 years, there were more than 15 million felony convictions across the country. That would make the error rate .027 percent — or, to put it another way, a success rate of 99.973 percent.”

But that claim, Gross writes in today’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “is silly.” Here’s the problem with its logic. The known exonerations were almost all murder and rape cases, which get much more post-conviction attention, whereas the total number of felonies also includes burglary, car theft, tax fraud, and drug possession. Some 95 percent of felony convictions are the result of plea bargains, with no formal evidence ever presented, and most never bother with an appeal.

There’s a more rigorous way to crunch the numbers, according to Gross’s new study. And that approach leads to a false conviction rate that was high enough to make me gasp — 4.1 percent.

To be more precise: Gross and his colleagues calculated a 4.1 percent error rate among people who are sentenced to death. This is a small subset (less than 0.1 percent) of the total number of prison sentences but, because of the stakes, these cases are scrutinized far more than most. For capital cases, Gross writes, “everyone from defense lawyers to innocence projects to governors and state and federal judges is likely to be particularly careful to avoid the execution of innocent defendants.”

Because of all of the resources spent on capital cases, the researchers reason, it’s likely that many (and perhaps a majority) of innocent defendants on death row will ultimately be exonerated. Calculating this rate would then give an approximate, albeit low estimate of the real false conviction rate.

Even with this small subset, though, getting a reasonable estimate is tricky, for two reasons. One is that the exoneration process takes time. To date 143 people on death row have been exonerated, and their time spent on death row ranged from 1 to 33 years, with an average of 10. That means there are some number of innocent people on death row today who have not yet been exonerated but will be in the future.

The other issue is that some number of innocent people on death row will have their sentence reduced to life in prison but will never be freed. (Why? Because once they’re off death row, their case is no longer under such intense scrutiny and exoneration is unlikely.)

Gross and his colleagues collected data on the 7,482 people who were sentenced to death between 1973 — the first year of modern death-penalty laws — and 2004. Of these, 117 were exonerated, or 1.6 percent. But among these, 107 were exonerated while they were still on death row, whereas only 10 were exonerated after their sentence had been reduced to life in prison.

This leads to a bizarre situation. If you’re on death row and your sentence is reduced to life in prison, you’re suddenly much less likely to be exonerated than someone who stays on death row.

To account for the X number of innocent defendants who were lost to life in prison, Gross’s team borrowed a statistical approach from medical research called “survival analysis.” Researchers typically track how long it takes a group of people with some disease, say diabetes, to achieve a certain outcome, such as death. Survival curves for diabetics on some new drug treatment, say, can then be compared with those on no treatment.

In this study, the “disease” is being on death row, the “outcome” is exoneration, and the “treatment” is being moved to life in prison. (Just as a medical treatment is likely to lower a diabetic’s risk of death, being moved to life in prison lowers the risk of exoneration.) Using this mathematical approach*, the researchers were able to calculate the cumulative risk of exoneration for the “untreated” population — that is, people who were never removed from death row. Because these cases get the most intense scrutiny, the researchers say, this is the closest we can get to the true rate of death-row false convictions. And that rate is 4.1 percent.

All of this assumes that the rate of innocent people being sentenced to death hasn’t changed over the past four decades. The authors say there’s no specific evidence to support a change, though it’s true that we’re sending far fewer people to death row than we used to. I thought that improvements in DNA technology might have lowered our error rate, but the researchers don’t think it makes much of a dent. Just 18 of the 142 exonerations since 1973 were thanks to DNA testing.

So then the next terrifying question is, geeze, how many innocent people have actually been executed?

Fortunately it’s probably not many. Innocent defendants are far more likley to have their sentenced changed to life in prison than to be executed. Still, with an error rate of 4 percent, the researchers write, “it is all but certain that several of the 1,320 defendants executed since 1977 were innocent.”

It’s impossible to say whether this 4.1 percent false conviction rate applies to defendants who never went to death row. But I’ll leave you with one last depressing thought. Of all of the people found guilty of capital murder, less than half actually get a death-penalty sentence. And when juries are determining whether to send a defendant to death row or to life in prison, surveys show that they tend to choose life sentences when they have “residual doubt” about the defendant’s guilt.

That means, then, that the rate of innocent defendants serving life in prison is higher than those on death row. “They are sentenced,” the authors write, “and then forgotten.”

*If you want to know about the particular equations involved in the survival analysis, check out Gross’s paper or the Wikipedia article on the method.

Update, 4:51pm: The text has been amended to correct a statistic about the number of death sentences. They make up 0.1 percent of the total number of prison sentences, not of the criminal population at large. 

36 thoughts on “How Many People Are Wrongly Convicted? Researchers Do the Math.

  1. It’s certainly tragic when an innocent person goes to prison, much worse when facing the death penalty. And perhaps there’s something to be done to improve the odds of the innocent. Movies like “Shawshank” are great tragedies, but to understand interpret all movies as having a social subtext is simply asinine and tendentious. One should watch such movies for the art of them, much like Greek tragedies were watched and for their cathartic value. Let’s not overstate the problem either. Indeed, we’ve grown rather perverse in the previous century when it comes to how we treat the victim and the perpetrator. The truth is that by far most people in prison are there because they’re guilty and most people on death row by far are there because they committed a heinous crime. And yet we seem to focus so much of our energy on the “rights of the criminals” and not the rights of the victims. We exchange compassion for the victim for false compassion for the criminal. This is a sick state of affairs. That we obsess over prison conditions is to me repulsive, a denial of the severity of the crime, a spitting in the face of the victim and their family. I know people working in today’s modern prisons. It is laughable to claim that the conditions in these prisons are bad. They are not. If they are overcrowded, it is because we fill them with 20 year olds found in possession of a little weed for personal use or black kids caught stealing a Snickers at a 7-11 instead of the real criminals, the drug dealers, sex offenders, murderers (life in prison can mean years nowadays; we have no concept of justice anymore), and high rolling embezzlers in government and corporation. Prisoners are too comfortable and have too much say in prisons. They are afforded luxuries they should not be receiving and routinely manipulate the softness of the system to their advantage. Prison is a place to pay, it should be uncomfortable, it should be hard and difficult. Indeed, prisoners should be put to hard labor to pay for their time in prison because the amount of money we’re spending on prisoners per annum is sickening, especially when there are so many good people who could benefit from that money.

    Sure, a wrongful conviction is a tragedy and we should do all that we reasonably can to prevent them and make use of capital punishment as carefully and as justly as possible, but we have bigger problems and pathologies to face than something which is to a large degree an anomaly or merely the unfortunate reality of justice systems i.e. that they are never perfect and never will be.

  2. I posit that a significant problem behind high conviction rates of the innocent is that there is no feedback system discouraging either prosecutors or the Justice Department in general from convicting the innocent, yet there are career rewards for being a successful prosecutor who must attempt to convict even the innocent, in some cases even going to great lengths to bend the truth and the law to do so. A man found to be innocent after ten years in prison gets basically nothing from the government in recompense, and so the government has no financial reason to avoid convicting him out of hand, and several reasons to convict that have nothing to do with whether he might be guilty, and are significantly more profitable since the government gets to keep all the fines and seized property – though somehow many of these seizures can happen long before trial.

    I’d like to propose that the government *should* be held accountable for the such misdeeds, and recompense the released in terms of salary lost, plus a base remuneration. However, I fear even this would have two horrible side effects: First the government would become even more determine to bury such cases than they are now, intentionally blocking reversals. And second, I can imagine people attempting to game the system by encouraging their own conviction in the face of their own innocence, to reap a financial reward later. Both of these fly in the face of how a justice system should work.

    I think only creating a separate department of government, with a separate budget, with the specific objective of reversing convictions, would have a worthwhile chance of improving the scenario.

    I agree that the government heavily abuses plea bargains. The system forces someone accused of crimes they didn’t commit to figure the odds of a plea bargain yielding (say) six months of probation versus a plea of innocence possibly yielding years of jail time. The federal courts assume that if someone who pled innocent is found guilty, that the must have known they were guilty, and therefore either lied or failed to repent, and applies the maximum sentence when possible. This sentencing paradigm doesn’t take into account that a person who was innocent would resist out of a sense of justice despite the horrible way the Justice Department likes to bend the game, and instead punishes these innocents more harshly then the admitted wrongdoers – and more harshly than the innocents who falsely pled to doing wrong, in an attempt to put at risk fewer years of their lives and time with those they love. Prosecutors know how to leverage this fear, and plea bargains often include surrendering property legally held along with that allegedly held in violation, making for a tidy profit for the government. Prosecutors will even ask the defendent to propose a crime to use to plea bargain, but at the federal level there are surprisingly few misdemeanors to use for this purpose, making it hard to find anything for a non-felony level plea bargain.

    And even at the sentencing, the results are bizarre, with judges grinding personal axes, accusing the one being sentenced of other crimes, conflating testimony between cases, scaling the sentence based on truly odd questions about the sentencee’s past, seemingly on a whim, and always fully believing the testimony of any other person sentenced despite the fact the accusation itself is often bought with a plea bargain – and even the court records are inaccurate, with meanings inverted, answers tied to the wrong questions (by omitted material between), etc. In many respects, a federal judge can run a court like a teacher can a kindergarten, making snap judgements based on personal biases, on incorrect, invariably negative conjectures about what the accused’s motives were, with credit given to whoever accused first, and like the kindergarten teacher, with no oversight and no culpabilty for being wrong, since no one of authority would ever believe the just-sentenced over the voice of another in authority.

    The Justice Department doesn’t care if you’re innocent; what they care about is are you *convictable*. And therein lies the problem.

  3. The only query I have is the difference between exonerated and innocent. For example, Ruben Carter’s conviction was overturned, it is not correct to state he was innocent as a matter of fact.

    There will be false positives as well as false negatives in exoneration stats.

  4. “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

    There can be no such thing as judicious use of capital punishment, since it is, by it’s nature, irreversible. We are precluded by nature from either infallibility or restoring life to those who deserve it and therefore we may never legitimately deal out death in judgement, at least not after the fact, i.e., self defense in the moment.

    That’s the end of that discussion. Any other ramblings are merely the ravings of the Socratically flawed..

  5. Murder “in cold blood” is thought, by our moral standards, to be more heinous than murder in the passion of the moment.

    What does that say about the morality of a system that asks the state to seek, and jurors to impose, a sentence of death, calmly and dispassionately?

  6. @Robert LeChef
    You say that life in prison should be hard and difficult. That depends on what you want the prison to do. Is the main goal to punish, or to rehabilitate the person so they can come out a good law abiding citizen.

    @Andrew Benjamin Esq.
    Nice quote. I should really read that book again.

  7. If we send one innocent person to prison we should consider that a tragedy. That’s why it says innocent until proven guilty. Many times jury’s go with their gut rather than cold hard facts. Worse yet many cases are tried in the media before it ever hits a court room.

  8. My 23 year old son is currently being a poster child for the judicial systems policial gain for a very racial small town pascagoula Missisippi. I would like for my son to get a far shake but I don’t know who, what, where a criminal attorney can be contacted. I would like to head the problem of getting on more wrongly convicted human being. If any one can advice please help me and my family.

  9. I take issue with the argument that the number of wrongfully convicted citizens is low enough to be dismissed as being within an acceptable margin of error. Putting an innocent person in prison for a crime they did not commit does not only take away a person’s freedom, but it also takes away the person’s life They are unable to form relationships, achieve their dreams or integrate into society. An earlier post mentioned the need for an increased focus on the rights of the victim. It is important to realize that the victim of a crime is not only the person directly affected by the crime, but also the family and friends of the victim who suffer along with them. In addition, the family of a suspected or convicted person also suffers, both financially and emotionally. Imagine being a child whose father has been convicted of murder. Now imagine being a child whose parent has been wrongly convicted of murder.
    The attention directed at wrongful convictions is long overdue. Before forensic science developed, I can only imagine how many people were convicted based on incorrect circumstantial evidence due to bias or prejudice. Now that our crime labs have become more sophisticated, many of these circumstantial cases can be more solidly based on “hard” evidence. This should lead to in improvement in our justice system that continues to decrease the number of wrongly convicted citizens losing their lives while sitting in prison, or losing their lives through execution.
    But the truth is that we are only now beginning to understand the causes of wrongful convictions. Studies have identified many such factors: police and prosecutor misconduct, Brady violations, ineffective counsel, etc. But now that we understand “what” causes wrongful convictions, we need to understand “why” they happened. What led to the defense attorney’s choice to ineffectively defend his client? Was is case overload? Lack of training or experience? Pressure from superiors to get the job done?
    The problem will never be solved until it is fully understood and the underlying root causes corrected. As an exercise, compare wrongful convictions to a plane crash. Whenever a plane crashes in the US, the FAA investigates and determines the root cause. If the cause was mechanical, then new guidelines are established to prevent this mechanical failure from happening or being detected before it can happen. If the cause was pilot error, then new guidelines might be issues to pilot training instructors. In any case, the goal is to attempt to prevent the failure from EVER happening again. Although it is understood that crashes will continue to happen, the GOAL is to achieve a completely safe aviation system.
    Why is this not the goal of the justice system as well. Just look at what happens when scientific evidence has proven a wrongful conviction. In many cases, those involved in causing the wrongful conviction continue to justify and defend their actions. I have heard no outcry from the American Bar Association or the establishment of an ABA investigation force to look closely at each wrongful conviction, assign blame, assert responsibility and correct the problem. I have seen no cry of alarm from law enforcement associations that resulted in the establishment of any “SWAT” team to determine what part their detectives might have played in identifying the wrong person. If anything, there is only excuses and a “circling of the wagons” around their members.
    Until the ABA and law enforcement agencies and associations admit that their members caused this problem and want to change the way they do business, there will be no change. There must be not only a change in behavior but also a change in attitude. If the current leadership of these organizations refuse to change their attitude, then new leadership is needed. The change will only be effective if the motivation to change comes from within.

  10. Morris Tyler at McCormick S.C Prison is wrongfully convicted on a malstation charge with a life sentence they has no dna of his they keep denie his appeal some one need to look lnto these cases in SC department of correction they is not examine these case close enough

  11. in the last two years i have witnessed “justice” at work. I have seen an innocent man be systematically stripped of his parental rights, his assets, and now, after two trials-his freedom. At his sentencing hearing, the judge acknowledged that this man is subject to sentencing under an “indeterminate” stipulation, and looking at life in prison. The judge has approved a hearing to determine if in fact there has been harmful error involved. A huge step in integrity. The accused/convicted has steadfastly denied any and all charges, and refused any and all plea bargains. There is absolutely no evidence-he was convicted by “an articulate description of events”, by a person who could “only describe these things if they happened”. In any process, there are rules to follow. Just like in society, without them, chaos ensues and the innocent suffer. God Bless the Judge that takes notice and does something about it. If there was a conviction review panel it could possibly reveal the wrongful conviction situation before the accused actually is sent to prison. If there is any possible test i.e. dna, std, psych, family functionality or dis as most today are, that could be done-it should be. The games that some prosecutors play are all about the conviction, and the public and political recognition. Its funny how some names make the news on a regular basis-for victories in court, a lot of the time it has not a damn thing to do with justice. The majority of class a felony charges end up in plea bargain, if you dont take the plea-they hit you with any possible thing they can, add more charges, fry you in the local media, cut corners and gloat when they convict. If in fact a conviction integrity protocol is developed it should include accountability measures for all involved and it damn sure shouldn’t be on the same payroll as the ones being reviewed! A wrongful conviction is like a horrible nightmare that you can’t wake up from-I wouldn’t wish it on anyone!

  12. My name is Catherine Farmer and I’m from the U.K. I have first hand experience of a case which perfectly illustrates the fatal flaws within the justice system in the U.S.

    Billy Kuenzel is a wrongfully convicted man who has Spent over 26 years on Death Row. In 1988, Billy was convicted of “capital murder during a robbery in the first degree” in the Circuit Court of Talledega County. On November 7th 1988, he was sentenced to “death by electrocution”. The trial was littered with constitutional violations and Billy’s defence lawyer later admitted in an affidavit that he was “grossly unprepared” and lulled into complacency by prosecuting D.A. Robert Rumsey who told him they had insubstantial evidence against Billy.

    There is overwhelming evidence which substantiates Billy’s unwavering claim of innocence and also exposes a series of corruption and court violations by the prosecution both before and during the trial. There is also substantial evidence to suggest that it was in fact Billy’s work colleague and roommate Harvey Venn who, along with another man was responsible for the murder. It was Venn’s perjured testimony, along with the testimony of a teenage girl, April Harris which eventually ensured Billy’s conviction.

    Billy has filed several appeals which have been rejected on the grounds that he is ‘time barred’. (His pro bono lawyer who had recently taken up the case was misinformed regarding The deadline). However, in 2010, it became apparent that the prosecution withheld several pieces of exculpatory evidence from the trial. Among them was the Grand Jury Testimony of April Harris who admits she couldn’t positively identify Billy yet, during the trial (with coaching and coaxing from Rumsey) she said she thought it was Billy she saw. Incidentally, the defence failed to cross examine her about the fact it was dark, raining and she was passing in a car almost 200 feet away. Eight separate witnesses placed Harvey Venn at the store that night with another male. No one identified Billy as being the other male and the description of this unknown male did not match Billy.

    Former D.A. Robert Rumsey seems intent on covering up the truth by any means necessary. The truth being that he coerced witnesses to commit perjury and withheld vital exculpatory evidence from the defence.

    All Billy has ever asked for is a chance for a fair hearing and to “let the facts speak for themselves”. Billy has had support from esteemed Former DA Robert Morgenthau who submitted an affidavit to the Circuit Court of Talledega County last year. He also has the support of Senator Hank Sanders who has personally addressed the State Governor (Robert Bentley) to address the controversy surrounding Billy’s case and for the withheld evidence to be reviewed by a court.

    We can’t stand back and watch another innocent man being executed, especially when we have the hard facts to prove it! There is nothing “just” about the justice system and we have been fighting with everything we have to change it. I have a stack of evidence and papers relating to the case which I am happy to share. I would also like to point out that Billy has never had his claim of actual innocence heard by any court, state or federal. I can find no other death row case in Alabama to which this also applies. An execution date is imminent. Whether people are for or against capital punishment, no sane person would expect a man to be executed without a fair trial.

  13. L. Juedes, very thoughtful and apt observations. I hope R. LeChef reads them. I also hope Mr. LeChef becomes aware that being deprived of freedom, i.e., locked up, is punishment in and of itself, regardless of the accommodations. He also needs to realize that very often offenders have been victims themselves. Their criminal behavior may well be behavior that was modeled to them by how they were treated. If they continue to experience abusive behavior while in jail or prison, they do not learn different, positive behavior. I believe that is one contributing factor to our unconscionably high recidivism–read failure–rate (usually quoted at 70%). In Norway, where prisoners do have creature comforts, the recidivism rate is under 20%. Most prisoners will be released at some point. Would you prefer one who has learned to be a productive citizen or one who has honed criminal skills and is angry at the “injustice” experienced in prison?

    I totally agree with you about the need to pay more attention to the needs of the victims–both direct and indirect. Another poster noted that the families of the primary victim and the offender are both affected. So are the victim’s and offender’s communities. We should all do what we can to change the system so that the needs of all affected by crime are met to the extent possible.

  14. I get annoyed at people who erroneously believe prison is “comfortable” and the inmates are doing soft time. Obviously madam, you’ve never been incarcerated. Or black in a panhandle redneck prison where the hillbilly guards get a kick out of beating, taunting and gassing inmates, threatening them with the same fate if they tell that they saw the guards beat and gas an inmate to death. Or thrown in solitary for 1 YEAR just because they can. All of this is true, and because it was Lionel Tate who witnessed this and was threatened, we were able to get a news outlet to interview him one YEAR later because the FLDOC didn’t want him to tell, and it worked, they terrified him into dilence and a suicide attempt. They get NO air conditioning in that fetid, prehistoric hot spot, that ought to make your stone heart sing- In short, your ignorance is showing, have a nice life-

  15. Jeffrey Havard was convicted, and sentenced to death in Adams County, Mississippi in 2002, in a trial that lasted 12 hours, for a crime that did not exist. He should never have been charged in the first place, but the Sheriff’s Dept., and the Coroner announced to the press that an autopsy confirmed this non-crime before the autopsy was ever completed. The Sheriff’s non-investigation went like this; the Sheriff told his deputies to go look for “anything that could have DNA on it”. I don’t know about you, but the fact that there, surprisingly, for Mississippi, was an actual Crime Scene Investigation Unit that existed, but was not called in, puts up a big red flag for me. Jeff was held “for suspicion”, not even being permitted to make a phone call, for 92 hours before he was formally charged. That was only the first of many violations of his Constitutional rights. The states entire case against him was completely fabricated. The “Medical Examiner”, Stephen Hayne (if you are unaware of him, please look him up for a horror story), left every single exculpatory piece of information out of his autopsy report. The evidence of the underlying felony? A 1 cm. contusion. A 1 cm. bruise, that could have had any number of causes, put Jeff Havard on death row. I won’t spend time giving every single detail, but ER staff, who were not tendered as experts, were asked to give expert opinion at trial, their “expert” responses were nonsensical, “to my notion it appeared so”, while Hayne, the only tendered expert to testify was briefly questioned, and the most important issue of the entire case was “danced around” by the prosecution. Havard was denied funding by the court to hire a medical expert to counter the prosecution, even though his totally inept counsel admittedly did not have any medical knowledge, and asked for an expert to examine the autopsy report, and help prepare a defense. The trial judge denied this request, saying the defense had not shown sufficient need of a medical expert. The state graciously pointed out that they could always go speak to Hayne, (because they knew he would be no help to a defense), which his defense attorney’s did not do. In fact, his defense attorney’s were lacking on every level. Jeff sat there like a deer in the headlights, having just turned 23, while he was absolutely railroaded. He wanted to testify on his own behalf, and was led to believe by his counsel, right up to a week prior to trial, that he would be doing so. However, his counsel told him that there was no need to testify, that his videotaped statement was good enough. He trusted that his counsel was acting in his best interest, but they were not. They did not cross examine the treating physician at trial, and objections were a rarity. They called one irrelevant witness in their defense of Jeff Havard. The jury deliberated for 36 minutes before finding him guilty of Capital Murder. And off he went to death row at Parchman. His attorney’s on Direct Appeal raised issues that were not of any valid importance. Every single appeal has been turned down flat by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Not one of his attorney’s ever went and spoke to Stephen Hayne until his Habeas counsel in 2009. When they filed his first Habeas appeal, the Federal Judge, thankfully, gave them leave to depose Stephen Hayne. Hayne began feeding them information piecemeal, finally culminating, after one Deposition, and three affidavits, in Hayne telling a reporter that he had told the prosecution prior to trial, and prior to testifying, that he had been “very careful”, and found no evidence of the underlying felony. He also told the reporter that, due to changes in science, that his original cause of death was “probably incorrect”. The reporter, to whom Havard will be forever grateful, also talked to the prosecutor, who said Hayne was his weakest witness. How can you proceed with charging and trying a young man, asking for the death penalty, when your only expert is your weakest witness? In the meantime, the evidence has been examined by six world and nationally renowned medical experts, all of whom have come to independent conclusions that no crime occurred. These opinions were all pro-bono, due to the capital nature of the case. The Office of the Attorney General of Mississippi has, rather than seek the truth, which is their JOB, continually defended the conviction instead. In fact, distorting the original misconduct with even more outlandish assertations than the original prosecution, and adding untruths that were never part of the original trial record. Jeff’s third post conviction relief petition is now before the Mississippi Supreme Court, which includes newly discovered evidence, and Prosecutorial misconduct. The State does not deem it necessary to respond to those allegations, they just shriek that it is too late to bring this up. They say it is procedurally barred by time. How can it be barred by time if the State was actively hiding the truth the whole time? The State contends that in Jeff’s case, in weighing his life, between the public’s faith in the Judicial System, a balance has been struck, therefore, he should die. How insane is that?

  16. Even the “Lifers” and those in prison for “only” 10-20 may suffer Horrific abuse which everyone says “is poetic justice, they DESERVE it.” BUT what if they didn’t do the crime?!? And the Death Penalty was supposed to be for the “Hitlers” and the “Ted Bundys.” But is THAT the case in states like Texas?? Every punk who held up a liquor store and killed 1-2 people are whacked, unless they plead it down and maybe get a life sentence. If they had opporutunities, if drugs were legal, if guns were LESS legal, these things would not happen near as much. SURE punish them, give them LIFE if they are over 21 and have a long record but NOT DEATH

  17. Yes, i do agree with most comments related to this subject. But i truly believe we are a product of what has become of the justice system itself

    It started out based on punishing those that committed an unacceptable, horrible, and intolerable crime. The justice system has become just as corrupt as many crimes of punishment. But its legal. Two wrongs are not right period..most judges are bias and really inconsiderate of both sides period. Is justice really the healing point. No. Many have suffered by the hands of others, many been in jail subjected to an outrageous timeframe, and those that are truly innocent faced with plea bargain options for their freedom. Afraid of following thru with a fair trial. The justice system is no better than criminals too. Its all about attorneys looking good and winning. Its all about district attorneys manipulating their power of recognition. Its all about the Jurors wanting to go home and could care less because its not close to their home (a family member) of course. Its all about the judge having extensive power overall of a person life. Their beginning and ending no matter if innocent or guilty truthfully. Its all about money, power, and much injustice either or. Jails, attorneys, district attorneys, officers, detectives, judges and the whole justice system profits from the lives of others.

    Ive lost my only brother and sister as a victim of a violent crime. I have had some family members railroaded for something they did not do or was at the wrong place at the wrong time. What is really justice anymore. Its a money making tool period off of the backbone of tax payers.

    But one thing i know i wouldnt want to be in their shoes. One day the justice system will be held accountable to a higher energy. Ive been on both ends and neither are comforting results. This is what we have allowed and accepted. What power or say do we have period. None. All we can do hold on to hope.

  18. Anyone who thinks it is acceptable for an innocent person to sit in jail for even a day let alone 10, 20, or 30 years might want to review our Constitution. These same people wouldn’t feel this figure was nearly as acceptable if they were innocent and sent to prison.
    Of these innocent people that were convicted, how many were due to the prosecutor or someone else hiding or discarding exonerating evidence that would have eliminated this person from even being considered a suspect. Then take these cases and see how many of these prosecutors were disciplined in any way.
    If the purpose of our legal system is to serve justice, why do we let these lawyers who commit crimes avoid consequence.
    Take a look at our Judiciary. Some of these judges are completely out of control and have no respect for the law or the Constitution. Yet there is little that can be done to get rid of them. They are investigated by other judges who have more reasons to do nothing than they have do for punishing one of their own.

  19. What about the flip side of the coin “How many people are wrongly acquitted?”

    And I am not in any way undermining the original premise of the article, I fully endorse “rather let 10 guilty go unpunished than punish 1 innocent”. But 10 criminals on the loose, of the worst violent kind, could prejudice 100 further innocents.

    With that high profile case of Casey Anthony: I thought she was guilty, and am sure the jury did too, but I think the impending death penalty was the reason they acquitted her.
    And they were right to do so too, she was a perfect case for remorse and rehabilitation to take place – I sincerely hope she succeeded with both, and went on to have more children.

    I did the math too, what would it take for a jury of 12 to return a judgment of “Guilty – beyond reasonable doubt” – and I think it is close to zero. So “reason” cannot play a role, it all comes down to “feeling”.

    And what do I feel about how judges feel? My silence speaks volumes . . .

  20. Im on my sister’s email. And i wanted to share my story of my son Jason D Clair, jason never goes out to bars and just one night of this girl he went to a bar. The whole bar started to threaten him say they are going to kill you.as jason was being beaten from of end of parking lot to another.jason finally made it to his truck broke his shifter panicked and didnt have his keys and grabbed his gun to go look for them, these young man tbat was beating him seen he had a gun and jason Said i have a gun fired it in the air to warn them.they said to Jason you better know how to use it cause we are going to kill you.. jason was covered in blood couldnt see nothing but shadows. And they ran at him again for fourth time and Jason fired at them and shot them both two brothers dyed jason was in self-defense to save his own life. And was sentenced in three days in Kissimmee Florida on October 25,2012 please help my son to come home.. he has never ever did anything wrong in his life..god help us..

  21. I am told that it is too late for me…I was found guilty and laughed at by the commonwealth attorney for even bothering to fight. He must have gotten to my lawyer, because he refused to help me in anyway. I can prove my innocence, but at this point, I am told that it doesn’t matter, the time for appeal is over. Oh, the commonwealth never proved that I did do anything illegal, he just was better at arguing than my attorney, only because he never tried. I would have done better without him. I thought he was there to help and that gave me a false impression that I wasn’t supposed to be my own lawyer, and then because I had one I had to let him defend. No sweat off his back though, he came out looking golden, because if he had fought, the judge and cops would have held a grudge. I was blamed for assault on a police officer, I didn’t even know the cop was behind me. I was found guilty of public intoxication, but never given a breathalyzer. I had been drugged and attacked, then when I left, the person that attacked me called the cops and said I was drunk, obviously to cover them self. It was the lowest felony and the would will suffer the loss of me. I have over 200 college credit hours, graduated at the top of my HS, served in the military, have several medals and honors, have always thought of myself as a person that wants to help the world be a better place and would hurt a fly without feeling bad. It was a low felony and I did 6 months. My daughter is disabled and still has not nor will she ever recover from losing me, being she is missing that part of her brain, allowing for recovery from emotional trauma. Prison should be outlawed and people should be reviewed by psychologists and like not handled by people that mandatorily are not allowed to get to know the person. That defeats the purpose. The system is set up so completely wrong it makes me sick. It’s been three years and I still have two years of probation left. My husband moved to another state last year and in two years I can go too.

  22. My father was beaten and tortured into a false confession. My daddy been in prison 26 years for a murder he did not do. The Cpd cop was charged after 20years for torturing the men from 1980 til 1990. But yet the system refuses to let my father free. Now my daddy is very sick and will most likely die in jail. All the innocence project program have turned me away. So even though they know my father is innocent and was beaten into confession. I was still told it’s nothing the court’s can do. And if I don’t have the funds to get a good lawyer my case will never be heard. I can’t understand how a human being can be treated like garbage and even after knowing that this person is innocent. The refusal to let him come home to his family…

  23. When court reporters routinely fail to record hateful deprivations of fundamental, constitutional, or human rights that transpire in criminal courtrooms that have no public attendance, the accused is treated to a conspiracy that is invited by the most hideous darkness in all of the world. The typical American believes that opting for a jury trial can remedy the fact that their will be no public attendance. The monolithic media never suggests that jurors can never be witnesses to what transpires within the criminal courtroom. No judge has a clue as to what goes on in the courtrooms next to the one that he is in. In America, the absence of a real criminal justice system is as odd as the slavery that no one can talk about. A revolution is past due, a system for all the people must be installed.

  24. Very thourough and disturbing article, as are the comments. A lot of scoffing at the rights of “criminals” which should of course refer to the accused’s right to a fair trial. I’m with Blackstone in this. Better to let 10 guilty free than convict 1 innocent. Do none

    of you have any experience being accused
    of something you did not do? Not the
    justice system, just school or family. A terrible feeling. To be convicted? The mind staggers. A 96% true conviction is excellent and way better than most countries I would guess. I found the survey result that showed.juries would sentence to life in prison if they had doubts about guilt
    interesting in that there was much less
    likelihood of exoneration when not on death
    row. As for all the victims rights, this is
    good but also new. Never in the history of
    common law jurisprudence has this been
    an issue. Mandatory minimums are
    ridiculous political posturing and down
    there in the States where judges and DA’s
    are elected I am amazed the bogus
    conviction rate is not higher. I believe most
    people act fairly and honestly most of the
    time and that is the only thing keeping any
    system going. And if you think we’re soft on
    crime up here in liberal socialized Canada
    may I direct your attention to our
    dangerous offender statutes? A man (?) named Bobbit will never leave prison due to a horrific sexual assault he carried out. Not murder, but the judge decided this individuals behavior was so dangerous to society and was so unlikely to change, that for the good of society Bobbit should never leave prison. I applaud this decision. Mind you that is no false conviction.

  25. Andrew Benjamin you quoted scripture beautifully. Absolutely germane to this discussion.

    Oh America, your guns you can see the tradgedy of booze, ego and stupidity bleeding out all over these submissions. Why take a gun with you to a bar? Even if it is in your truck. Why come back with a gun after being insulted? What does the constitution say about idiocy?

  26. So the assertion is that “most” people are in prison because they are guilty, and “most” people on death row are there because they have committed a heinous crime. Brilliant. These people could not possibly supply a better argument for reform.

  27. Is there really something wrong with our justice system or does it just appear that way because of the way it has been misused and manipulated by the individuals who have been entrusted to protect it? I believe that we live in the greatest country on earth dispite some imperfections, but for any person with any moral values to think it is ok for one innocent person to be incarcerated and then look at it as just a casualty of war, or the cost of doing business, is exactly why our justice system is broken. We can have discussions and agree to disagree about the state of our justice system until we are blue in the face, but until the day you have to deal with it yourself, experience the sadness and torture of knowing that someone you love sits in prison because of the actions of another individual, you will know exactly what our justice system is capable of! The numbers or percentages don’t matter to a family who is dealing with it first hand, the countless hours driving between states just to hopefully get the chance to see them for a very short time, the countless prayers and hopes for that one day they may be set free and have the people responsible admit they did wrong. The sad and even more scary part about it is that it could happen to anyone at any time and the individuals who think otherwise still believe we live in the free world, or at least until their freedom is taken away, AND IT HAPPENS MORE OFTEN THAN YOU THINK, believe me I know!
    That fact of the matter is that anytime the Human Factor is put in the middle of what should be a black & white, right or wrong decision, something is bound to get messed up, missed, ignored or covered up. So the question still remains: How do we fix a problem that we created for our selves? How do we take the human error out of our justice system? The answer is we can’t unless we make the individuals who think they are above the law, just because they hold a position of authority, accountable for their miscarriage of justice.

    See you soon little brother, I love you!

  28. Caroline Jensen · Home at Myself/full time carer for son
    i know someone who got sentenced to 6 yrs in prison at the age of 14, she did not do the crime but was interrogated by the police , they told her if she does not admit she will not get released so she admitted to the offence. her solicitor told her she cannot appeal, but got told weeks later she had 21 days to clear her name. She is out now and cannot get a job as its on dbs check for work, the girl that did the offence cannot be traced. At the time of the offence the girl was going through child abuse and scared of him looking for her for revenge so thats another reason she admitted and not having family around to support her and tell her she was not alone, and the rules off admitting to something she did not do,none off her family went to court she was alone and scared.

  29. My son was convicted of murdering his wife and arson to cover it up and sentenced to 50 years. Yet, there was no murder and her death today is still listed as “undetermined”. He rescued his children, 4 and 5 years old from their second floor bedrooms and put them on a porch roof, then got down to the ground to get a ladder to rescue them and call the fire department at 3 a.m. His wife slept on the first floor where the fire started. Because of the death, police were called and did a thorough search, taking photographs and sifting for fire/death information. They found none and declared it “not a crime scene” and turned the home back to my son that day. They took no samples which would show how she died, as required by law. Then after autopsy revealed no cause of death except that she died before the fire, the State fabricated a scenario with no proof and returned to take samples three days later. To avoid chain-of-custody problems, they testified on the warrant and at Trial that the samples were taken on the first day. Yet, the Lead Detective had already destroyed evidence which proved how she died accidentally. Therefore, he lied to cover up his flagrant errors that first day. For 20 years now, we have tried to get our court appointed attorneys to file for an evidence hearing since no evidence in trial was valid, but none will venture to challenge the system! The present attorney has had the case for four years and has done nothing.

    Note that this benevolent Justice system even took our grandchildren from us here in Florida after happily being here for 18 months. The public does not realize the extent of devastation caused by the “untouchables” in the Justice system who cannot be challenged.

    This case is a prime example of just how really corrupt the system has become in the “Constitution State” which has lost its compass We have written hundreds of letters to top officials in the State and very seldom even get an acknowledgment that the letter was received and nothing is done to help. They have denied his children access to see him. Even today as adults, his children cannot visit him! This to a family man who went on second shift just to be with his children during the day! As a parent, I received one response from a government attorney saying, “you must remember, Mr. Wargo, you are the parent of a murderer.” That is an indication of the mindset of the entire system. There is no accountability for the prosecutors and police who are, in effect, given license to kill when they knowingly take an innocent person who was a devoted family member with never any infractions with the law and use this to propel their own agenda which rewards winning cases only. There is much more to this story about the effects on the family that would fill a couple of volumes, but we still need an evidence hearing which would prove his innocence. Also, note that scheduled hearings are most of the time scheduled a year or more away, and then most likely they will find an excuse to reschedule, then more time lost as they continue to get paid. The system is broken. This case is the worst travesty ever in the Judicial system. Lance must be freed now!

    1. Mr. Wargo
      I wake up everyday, I go to work, do my best to help others to the best of my ability in every aspect of my life and then I head home. I wish I could tell you that is all my life consists of but I’m sure you know all to well by your own tragedy that is not how it is. My little brother is the first and last thing on my mind every single day and going about my daily life wishing I could stop every person I see and tell my brothers story in the hopes that it may open up their minds to the fact that these kind of tragedies do happen would more than likely fall on def ears. I guess the only comfort I can provide to you is that there is one thing I know for sure, people are starting to wake up and taking notice of the many injustices that have been placed on people. Taking into account the many tragedies of the past year involving police against people and yes people against police as well, it makes me wonder if actual productive criminal justice reform is on the horizon. It doesn’t make a difference if your a civilian or a police officer, white or black, rich or poor, All Lives Matter and it is always devastating when a life is lost but for many to say or think that it is open season on law enforcement, let’s not forget that it has been open season on people in America for a lot longer. I am not condoning the horrible actions that some people have committed against police officers in the recent past but I think it has everything to do with the distrust and frustration that people have felt for a very long time due to the bad apples as they say.
      I hope that you and your family find peace and resolution soon with your son’s situation and know that you are not the only one having to navigate a broken system.

  30. “everyone from defense lawyers to innocence projects to governors and state and federal judges is likely to be particularly careful to avoid the execution of innocent defendants.”

    Nonsense. This country has and will continue to execute an unknowable number of innocents and while there is a core group of people seeking change, many just flat out don’t give a damn.

  31. The problem starts with the distract attorneys office in any State. Losing a case is not an option to them, even if they realize during the case a defendant is innocent they fight like hell to get that conviction. I compare it to a professional fighter, they want to score as many wins as possible. I am not putting down professional fighting in any way. They follow a set of fair rules, but the a district attorneys follow no rules ! Well they must follow some rules they just break as many as they can get away with. The prosecutors in our courts seem to have no morals at all. How zealous would a prosecutor be if he convicted a person wrongfully, and it was proven, that prosecutor would have to do the same sentence as the person they wrongfully convicted. When a distract attorneys office convicts someone wrongfully, and it is proven without a shadow of doubt, they must face some sort of punishment. And with that I will close !

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