Capital punishment has emerged as the hot topic of this political season. Once a debate over "cruel and unusual punishment," the talk now has shifted its focus onto the possibility of mistaken executions. We are told that the prospect that even one innocent victim might be wrongly executed is enough to abolish the death penalty or at least to impose a moratorium until a more reliable system can be constructed.
That is exactly the line Illinois Gov. George Ryan took in February, when he placed a "temporary" ban on executions in his state until the matter could be studied further. "There is no margin for error when it comes to putting a person to death," he said.
Adding fuel to the fire is a much-ballyhooed study by James S. Liebman of Columbia Law School, which alleges that nearly two-thirds of all death sentences are overturned because of "serious, reversible error." Liebman and company conclude that the death penalty system is "collapsing under the weight of its own mistakes."
Is it really?
Claremont Institute senior fellow Edward J. Erler and political scientist Brian P. Janiskee set aside the New York Times and the Washington Post interpretation of the Liebman study and decided to read it for themselves. They conclude that there is less to the Liebman study than meets the eye.
"In fact," Erler and Janiskee demonstrate in an article published in Investor's Business Daily on Wednesday,
"Liebman's study doesn't document a single instance where an innocent victim was executed."
Erler and Janiskee argue that Liebman's study is flawed in its statistical sample and its method. "In calculating the reversal rate, the study includes any reversal of a death sentence, even if that sentence was later restored by the courts," they note.
What about incompetent defense lawyers? Erler and Janiskee point out that courts often have arbitrary and contradictory definitions of "incompetence."
We invite you to read "Study Fails to Prove that Death Penalty is Unfair" by Edward J. Erler and Brian P. Janiskee.