Last Updated 16 Jun 2020

Death Penalty Critique Essay

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Looking at the death penalty system in action, it is fundamentally flawed in use and there is a serious risk of executing innocent people. Many unjust convictions have shown that serious flaws such as: Lack of eyewitness identification, False confessions, and the access to have DNA testing have caused our countries criminal justice system to convict many innocent individuals, who were sentenced to death. The most disturbing fact individuals are faced with today, is that innocent people have been sentenced to death, and lots of them.

Statistics show that one hundred thirty people, wrongfully convicted people, were sentenced to death and were lucky to, eventually be exonerated and released. It is also said that DNA, can’t guarantee the court system won’t execute innocent people(Schabas23). Obviously, if someone is convicted and later found innocent a judge can release him/ her from prison, but unfortunately not from the grave. Twenty-one inmates have been released since 1993, including seven from the state of Illinois alone(Banner7).

Many of these cases were discovered not because of the normal appeals process, but as a result of many new scientific techniques, investigations, and the dedicated work of multiple attorneys. In 1993, the Death Penalty Information Center was asked by Representative Don Edwards, the Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, to prepare a report on the issue of innocent people on death row. The Center 's report listed 48 defendants who were released from death row in the prior 20 years because of later discovered evidence of innocence(Haines76).

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With the greater use of the death penalty, there is a far greater chance of making mistakes. The death penalty has become even more political as legislators, prosecutors, and even judges promote the death penalty in their campaigns. Studies show that prosecutors, with practically uncontrolled discretion to seek the death penalty, may pursue a death sentence even when the evidence is weak, and they may be unwilling to change course when conflicting evidence later arises.

Plus recent changes in the appeals process, especially in federal courts, have made it more likely that executions will proceed even in the face of evidence raising doubts about a defendant's guilt(Abolish the death penalty). It’s at these times where eyewitness identification, confessions, and the access to have DNA testing are crucial in determining a persons innocence. Most law enforcement agencies use the same approaches to find out who the perpetrator in a situation is as they have for decades.

The two most common ways to identify a possible criminal are by holding live and photo lineups, they are usually conducted without a blind administrator or proper instructions. It is many times stressful for victims and eyewitnesses to identify a perpetrator, and they make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes are caused by lack of memory, or just feeling like they have to make an pick out the right person at all costs. In other cases, little cues by police whether they be intentional or not have, and can lead to a false identification(Haines 35). Almost all of these mistakes can be avoided.

Some ways that the justice system goes about avoiding these mistakes are by using Blind Administration, this means that that the risk of misidentification is reduced if the police officer administering a photo or live lineup does not know who the suspect is. Another method is Lineup Composition which is a lineup that consists of "Fillers”, which are the non-suspects included in a lineup. They are many times chosen to resemble the eyewitness' description of the perpetrator. The suspect should not stand out for example, he should not be the only member of his race in the lineup, or the only one with bald hair(Death Penalty).

The next thing would be proper instructions. The person viewing a lineup should be told that the perpetrator may not be in the lineup and that the investigation is still going to continue regardless of what the result from the lineup may be. They will also be told not to look to any officer for any hints. Immediately following the lineup procedure, the eyewitness should provide a statement, in their own words, which will essentially show their level of confidence in the identification. Lastly, any identification procedures are to be videotaped whenever possible(Haines39).

This protects innocent suspects from any wrong doing by the lineup administrator, and it shows a jury that it was a genuine investigation. The most common factor in all wrongful convictions has been eyewitness misidentification. This does not only threaten the innocent, but they also completely shut down investigations, because while police try to focus on finding evidence against an innocent person, the person responsible for the crime can get away, and the innocent person will ultimately receive the sentence(Abolition of the death penalty).

It is very hard for anyone to really understand why someone would falsely confess to any crime, but much psychological research has provided some answers. DNA has also proven that the problem is more common than many people think. Approximately 25% of the wrongful convictions that led to the death penalty were eventually overturned with DNA evidence, showing that defendants made false confessions to law enforcement officials(Banner56). This is where recording interrogations comes in handy, but the law now states that the entire interrogation must be recorded.

This record will improve the credibility and reliability of confessions, while at the same time protecting the rights of suspects. Records show that in most false confession cases, details of the crime were communicated to a suspect by police during questioning(Schabas44). By the police officer disclosing the information, the suspect knew the details which made it easy to confess. Also, many times threats or promises have been made to the suspect off camera and then the camera is turned on for a false confession.

Without any record of interrogation, it is difficult tell how reliable a confession is. For law enforcement agencies, recording interrogations can prevent questions as to how a suspect was treated, create a clear record of a suspect’s statements and prevent officers from using illegal tactics to make sure they get a confession. For many reasons including mental health issues and aggressive law enforcement tactics innocent people do sometimes confess to crimes they did not commit. This contributes a great amount in the court room when people are being sentenced to death(Death Penalty).

Access to DNA testing is another big contributor as to why innocent people are sent down death row. Forty-eight out of fifty states in our country have some form of law that permits inmates access to DNA testing. However, many of the states that do grant access to DNA testing, laws are limited as far as to what the extent of the test may be. Many inmates who request to get tested, for the simple fact that the test would confirm guilt or prove their innocence, get denied. Some states have passed laws that include walls to testing that make it impossible for most prisoners to receive testing.

These include restrictions against inmates who have pled guilty or those whose lawyers did not request any form of DNA testing in court. In many cases, the evidence such as the eyewitness identification or false confession is used by judges many times as grounds to deny a DNA test. This makes it so that many prisoners do not have any legal means what so ever to get testing on evidence in their case(Haines81-104). So, ultimately, an innocent inmate could be sentenced to death, for the simple fact that testing may not be available to them, or it is just denied.

In this country, there are and have been many people who have been convicted multiple crimes, and sentenced to the death penalty. Many unjust convictions have shown that there are serious flaws in the Justice System, which have lead to innocent people being lead down death row. As a nation, we are coming up with more ways to fix the system so those who are innocent do not suffer, but many do still think that the death penalty should not even be a possibility should an innocent individual be found guilty.

The question that remains though is, Even with all the Flaws in The Judicial system, and all the innocent convicted, should the Death Penalty be used, and should it be used at all? In my opinion, this paper has everything to do with government. I mean, the death penalty is something they can either decide to preserve, or abolish. I am against the death penalty, and I do believe that with all of the wrongful convictions there have been based upon these flaws that the death penalty should not even be used at all.

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