Federal Review of Death Penalty Cases Leads to 27 Possible Mistaken Executions

| by Sarah Siskind
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The FBI’s investigation of 27 capital punishments could mark a watershed moment in the ongoing debate about the death penalty. After examining the DNA evidence from 21,700 cases, these were the top cases termed "potentially problematic."

According to the Washington Post, this review has already led to an 11th hour stay of execution in Mississippi this past May. For defenders of capital punishment, the investigation might yield a significant victory if DNA evidence verifies all 27 cases. However, the investigation might favor opponents of capital punishment if just one of the executed convicts is found to be innocent. It's worth noting: it is difficult to produce incontrovertible evidence of someone’s innocence and far easier to simply cast doubt.

It is also possible this investigation will have no bearing whatsoever on the debate for two major reasons. First, executed convicts have been exculpated before. As noted by The Atlantic, in 1983, 21 year-old Carlos Deluna was arrested for the murder of a gas station attendant. Six years later, he was executed. Twenty-three years later an investigation proved he was innocent. Three decades since, and the death penalty remains the same. 

Second, the investigation might be a moot endeavor because many proponents of the death penalty concede it is subject to error. A mistaken prison sentence, like the death penalty, cannot be reversed or compensated for yet people still support prisons. Some support the death penalty because they interpret the constitution as close to its original intent as possible and the death penalty was widely used at the time of the constitution’s writing. Some support the death penalty as a strong deterrent and therefore the incidence of a mistaken execution might not sway them.

The investigation is, however, likely to reintroduce debate in the media. Whether it will make it to congress or state legislatures is left to be determined.

Sources: Washington Post, The Atlantic