Dead Wrong: Capital Prosecutions and the Interests of Justice

Jon B. Gould, George Mason University

This paper evaluates the errors behind wrongful capital convictions, seeking both to identify common factors and to evaluate their effect on the overall fairness of capital prosecutions. The research draws a sample from the nearly 100 cases in which an innocent defendant has been freed from death row and, relying on a variety of qualitative research techniques, seeks to identify the factors that led to wrongful convictions. Comparing these cases to our understanding of how most criminal prosecutions operate, the paper asks whether the errors were isolated but unfortunate or whether in fact they reflect more serious failings in the ability of the criminal justice system to achieve justice. The paper closes with a proposal for routine empirical evaluation to assess the fairness of capital prosecutions.

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Updated 05/20/2006