Justice Stevens Says Risk of Wrongful Convictions and Sentences Is Increased in Death-Penalty Cases


United States Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens told a judicial conference audience that DNA testing has revealed that the risk of wrongfully convicting and sentencing an innocent person is increased in death-penalty cases.

Stevens told the group of lawyers and judges on May 5, 2010, that capital juries are dominated by people who favor the death penalty, and the brutality of the crimes that lead to a capital trial can put pressure on prosecutors. “The dynamics of the litigation,” Stevens said, raises the risk of “incorrect decisions” regarding who should be sentenced to die.

This public statement echoes what Justice Stevens wrote in 2008 in Baze v. Rees, that “the imposition of the death penalty represents ‘the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes. A penalty with such negligible returns to the State [is] patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth Amendment.’”

Justice Stevens announced his retirement on April 9, 2010. President Obama is expected to nominate his replacement next week.