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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 183787 Find in a Library
Title: Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995
Author(s): James S. Liebman; Jeffrey Fagan; Valerie West
Date Published: June 12, 2000
Page Count: 174
Sponsoring Agency: Columbia University
New York, NY 10027
Open Society Foundation
New York, NY 10019
Sale Source: Columbia University
School of Law
435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States of America
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Document
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: Many fear that capital trials put people on death row who should not be there; others say capital appeals take too long; this report -- the first statistical study ever undertaken of modern American capital appeals (4,578 State capital cases between 1973 and 1995) -- suggests that both claims are correct.
Abstract: As this study documents, capital sentences do involve long periods under judicial review. This study also documents, however, that judicial review takes so long precisely because American capital sentences are persistently and systematically fraught with error that seriously undermines their reliability. During the 23-year study period, the national overall rate of prejudicial error in the American capital punishment system was 68 percent. This means that courts found serious, reversible error in nearly 7 of every 10 of the thousands of capital sentences that were fully reviewed during the period. Capital trials produce so many mistakes that it takes three judicial inspections to catch them, leaving serious doubt as to whether all mistakes are identified. After State courts threw out 47 percent of death sentences due to serious flaws, a later Federal review found "serious error" -- error that undermines the reliability of the outcome -- in 40 percent of the remaining sentences. Erroneously trying capital defendants the first time around, operating the multi-tiered inspection process needed to catch the mistakes, warehousing thousands under costly death row conditions in the meantime, and having to try two out of three cases again is irrational. This report describes the extent of the problem. A subsequent report will examine its causes and their implications for resolving the death penalty crisis. 10 tables, 35 figures, and appended State-by-State information on State capital punishment
Main Term(s): Court procedures
Index Term(s): Appeal procedures; Capital punishment; Cost effectiveness analysis; Death row inmates
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