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III.   Confirmation from a Parallel Study

Results from a parallel study by the U.S. Department of Justice suggest that our 32%, or one-in-three, figure for valid death sentences actually overstates the chance of execution:

  • Included in the Justice Department study is a report of the outcome as of the end of 1998 of the 263 death sentences imposed in 1989.66 A final disposition of only 103 of the 263 death sentences had been reached nine years later.67 Of those 103, 78 (76%) had been overturned by a state or federal court. Only 13 death sentences had been carried out.68 So, for every one member of the death row class of 1989 whose case was finally reviewed and who was executed as of 1998, six members of the class had their cases overturned in the courts.

  • Because of the intensive review needed to catch so much error, 160 (61%) of the 263 death sentences imposed in 1989 were still under scrutiny nine years later.69

  • The approximately 3,600 people on death row today have been waiting an average of 7.4 years for a final declaration that their capital verdict is error-free-or, far more probably, that it has to be scrapped because of serious error.70

  • Of the approximately 6,700 people sentenced to die between 1973 and 1999, only 598-less than one in eleven-were executed.71 About four times as many had their capital judgments overturned or gained clemency.72

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