Why it's a problem:
1. Innocent people are being put to death.
Since 1973, 174 people have been exonerated and released from death row. Many of these exonerations occur after it's too late.
A 2014 study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) found that at least 4.1% of all death-sentenced defendants were, and are, not guilty. These numbers were made purposely conservative- meaning that there is a chance for even higher percentages of innocent people sentenced to death.
Statistics "likely understate the actual problem of wrongful convictions because once an execution has occurred there is often insufficient motivation and finance to keep a case open, and it becomes unlikely at that point that the miscarriage of justice will ever be exposed." (Romano 2003). Many states see exoneration as evidence of a failed justice system. Thus, they are willing to go to great lengths to protect the system from being exposed, including destruction of evidence.
The National Registry of Exonerations highlights that official misconduct and perjury or false accusation are the most common causes of wrongful convictions of the death penalty. Read more here. Even excluding the last 20 years, research from Northwestern University observed that 46 innocent Americans were put on death row because of mistaken and perjured eyewitness identification testimony.
2. The system is racially biased.
The University of Michigan observed in 2018 that 79% of homicide exonerations were marred by official misconduct. Moreover, official misconduct is more common in death penalty cases- especially if the defendant is black. Data shows that 87% of Black exonerees who were sentenced to death were victims of official misconduct, compared to 67% of white death row exonerees.
A 2020 Year End Report found that nearly half of those executed during the year were people of color and 76% of the executions involved White victims. According to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell, "Black folks are more likely to be executed than White folks, and those (of any race) who kill White people are more likely to be executed than those (of any race) who kill Black people."
3. The death penalty does not deter violent crime.