Innocence Lost

by Ramesh Ponnuru

I’m against the death penalty, but opposition is no excuse for misleading people. From my latest Bloomberg View column.

The argument that seems to have done the most to dent support for capital punishment is that innocent people might be executed. The Death Penalty Information Center’s list of 144 people who have been “exonerated” from death row since 1973 has done a lot to spread this impression.

But looking into this list is a disillusioning experience. In a minority of cases the illusions dispelled are about police and prosecutors: The wrong guy was convicted of a crime, and later evidence, often DNA evidence, proved his innocence.

In other cases, though, the dashed hope is that opponents of the death penalty would be honest. When a death-row inmate has his conviction thrown out on a technicality and the passage of time has made retrial impossible, that doesn’t mean that his original sentence was unjust or that he has been exonerated. But that’s all it takes to get on the center’s list of exonerees.

I wrote a little more about this issue 12 years ago

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