There is an emerging national consensus that the administration of the death penalty in the U.S. is in dire need of reform. After many years of deep cuts to indigent defense funding and radical restrictions on prisoner appeals, the pendulum is beginning to swing in the other direction. Reforms are now being proposed at the state and national level. Measures like the Innocence Protection Act, FN5 now pending before Congress, could lessen the risk of executing innocent people by increasing compensation, training, and oversight of defense counsel and by making DNA testing available to death row prisoners.
The proposed reforms, however, only address the first finding of this report. They do not address the reluctance of state and federal appellate courts to review and/or intervene when faced with cases with compelling evidence of innocence or rights violations. Furthermore, the proposed remedies do not address racial bias and prosecutorial misconduct. FN6 Officially, neither the state nor federal governments acknowledge that innocent people are being executed. The necessary first step to meaningful reform is a time-out on executions that allows time, space, and resources for independent evaluations of the state and federal governments administration of the death penalty. FN7
Based on the findings of this report, the Grassroots Investigation Project of Equal Justice, USA recommends the following in order to protect the rights of individuals and to ensure that innocent people are not executed:
- State and federal governments should impose immediate moratoria on executions and should constitute independent bodies to study the administration of the death penalty.
- State and federal governments should investigate alleged cases in which people have been executed for crimes they did not commit.
- State and federal governments should consistently provide compensation to individuals, or the families of individuals, who have been wrongfully convicted or wrongfully executed.