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DOJ's death penalty reinstatement brings new concerns

The U.S. government recently announced plans to reinstate the death penalty for death row prisoners after 16 years without a federal execution. The Department of Justice (DOJ) said five inmates would be executed after putting new protocols in place.

The government says it's an attempt to "seek justice against the worst criminals" and bring relief to the victims' family members. Critics say this comes at a time when executions are at an all-time low due to the death penalty's deep racial bias, its high costs and inaccurate convictions.

Statistics show dozens of wrongfully convicted death row inmates

The Innocence Project is a nonprofit organization that looks to reveal and prevent wrongful convictions. The group says executions have drastically declined over the past 20 years for several reasons:

  • More than 160 death row inmates have been exonerated since 1973
  • 20 of those inmates were exonerated due to post-conviction DNA testing
  • A recent study shows 4% of death row inmates are innocent
  • More than half of the inmates on death row are people of color

DNA testing has been a game-changer for many

The Innocence Projects says it has helped exonerate more than 300 people through DNA testing with more than 25% of those inmates convicted of murder and 18 were sentenced to die. Wrongful convictions can also happen because of unreliable eyewitness accounts, coerced confessions or mistakes in misapplying forensic science.

Study shows alarming findings over the application of forensic evidence

In 2013, the DOJ and FBI collaborated with the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to review 268 cases over the accuracy of scientific reports and testimony. Some labeled the results as “astounding:”

  • 96% involved false statements: In 257 of the cases reviewed, erroneous statements were made during a trial.
  • 94% of death penalty cases included false statements: Errors were made in 33 of 35 death penalty cases. Nine of those defendants have already been executed, and five others died from other causes while waiting on death row. The other defendants are currently on death row.
  • 93% of FBI testimony involved false information: Only two of the 28 agents who testified did not include erroneous statements or lab reports.

There is hope for post-conviction relief

Defendants convicted or accused of a crime have many legal options available to them to dismiss or overturn charges as well as reduce sentences. The advice of an Oregon defense attorney can be crucial for people charged with a crime or wrongfully convicted.

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