Help me out here. The news is focusing on the results of a Columbia Univ Law School study conducted by Prof James Liebman which focuses on reversal rates of death penalty cases. It found that about 68% of all cases which went to appeals court were reversed. Virginia’s rate was low at 18%, but Texas appeal courts reversed the death sentence in 52% of the cases with Florida’s rates topping out at a fantastic rate of 73%! Overall, only 5% of the 5,760 death sentences imposed between 1973 and 1995 have actually been carried out.
Something is obviously very wrong. Gov Roger of Illinois looks like a hero for his moratorium on state executions.
I am not a supporter of the death penality, but I have some questions about this study:
a. Don’t all death penalty convictions go automatically thru the appeals court process? If yes, the results of this study are shocking. One of the reasons cited for successful appeals cases is the widespread incompetence among defense lawyers. The OJ case showed that incompetence is not necessarily limited to defense lawyers and, more important, money can buy you freedom.
b. If death penalty convictions are not automatically routed to the appeals process, the study has a basic flaw which tosses out their findings. The cases heard had a better chance of being successfully appealed because they were deemed as “appealable” ie: something happened which cancelled out a fair trial.
Anyone know the answer? If you are a supporter of the death penalty, doesn’t this study provoke second thoughts about your position?