by Paul Goetz
June 13, 2007
The thought of being sentenced to serve time for a crime you didn’t commit certainly can cause uneasiness and fear. Add the possibility of facing the death penalty as an innocent person and your mind may question whether the system we have in place needs some fine-tuning. When you fall into that category, the death penalty issue is the only issue.
Recent polls have revealed numbers indicating a loss of support for the death penalty. A 2007 study of 1,000 adults nationwide conducted by the Death Penalty Information Center found these surprising results.
- 40% feel that because of their moral beliefs, they would be disqualified from serving on the jury of a case involving the death penalty
- 58% feel we should see a moratorium on the death penalty while a review of the process is conducted
- 69% believe reforms will fail to eliminate all wrongful convictions and executions
- 87% believe an innocent person has been executed in recent years
In addition to these numbers, the study found that among those who had changed their position on the death penalty in the last 10 years, more people had become opponents than proponents by a margin of three to two.
DNA Exonerations Lift the Veil
In January 2007, James Waller sat in a Dallas courtroom after having served 10 years behind bars for rape. But this time he faced no jury or prosecution but a legal confirmation of what must have been the predominant force in his mind for the last 10 years: He was innocent. Waller is just one example of the handful of DNA-exonerated cases in Dallas County alone.
DNA exonerations not only expose the innocent and force us to question our procedural justice system but also bring about the issue of the death penalty’s place in American justice.
While DNA exonerations across the country have led to moratoriums of executions, some still feel the death penalty should be upheld. Attempts have failed in Texas to approve a death penalty moratorium. Fifteen Texas inmates have been executed this year, and further attempts to outlaw the death penalty by state representatives have failed.
Supporters of the death penalty point to the decisions being made in U.S. criminal courts as validation of the public’s backing of the death penalty. But a recent Supreme Court decision raises a question over the formation of what some believe are biased juries. The ruling supported a Washington judge’s decision to disqualify a man from serving on a jury based on his views doubting the death penalty.