After the botched 2014 execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, John Oliver tackled the issue of the death penalty on the second episode of his HBO show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Oliver opens the discussion with a sound bite from former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who says, “I  do believe in the death penalty, but  only with respect to those [that] are guilty of committing the crime.” Oliver responds, “Okay, bold idea. We shouldn’t execute innocent people. I think most people would probably agree with that. You, sir, are a regular Atticus Finch. But  executing the innocent is not really the tough question here.” Oliver was right, of course; this should not be a tough question, but the number of judicial and institutional hurdles— both procedural and substantive—currently in place should raise grave concerns about our commitment to ensuring that only the guilty are executed. Since 1973, there have been 157 death row exonerations. That is approximately one exoneration for every ten executionsin this country. Recent research suggests that the rate of wrongful convictions in capital cases where a death sentence was imposed is approximately four percent, which means that approximately 120 of the roughly 3,000 inmates on death row in this country are not guilty. The fact that countless individuals sit behind bars for crimes they did not commit is troubling enough, but even more terrifying, obviously, is the prospect of their execution. There is every reason to believe that we already have executed innocent individuals.
Jennifer L. Givens,
Chasing Justice: The Monumental Task of Undoing a Capital Conviction and Death Sentence,
70 Ark. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarworks.uark.edu/alr/vol70/iss2/3