Policy Issues


The death penalty carries the inherent risk of executing an innocent person. Since 1973, at least 195 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in the U.S. have been exonerated.

DPIC Database: Innocence Database

A Death Penalty Information Center data­base of every death-row exon­er­a­tion since 1972.

DPIC Analysis: Causes of Wrongful Convictions

The Most Common Causes of Wrongful Death Penalty Convictions: Official Misconduct and Perjury or False Accusation


Given the fallibility of human judgment, there has always been the danger that an execution could result in the killing of an innocent person. Nevertheless, when the U.S. Supreme Court held the administration of the death penalty to be unconstitutional in 1972, there was barely any mention of the issue of innocence in the nine opinions issued. Although mistakes were surely made in the past, the assumption prevailed that such cases were few and far between. Almost everyone on death row was surely guilty.

However, as federal courts began to more thoroughly review whether state criminal defendants were afforded their guaranteed rights to due process, errors and official misconduct began to regularly appear, requiring retrials. When defendants were now afforded more experienced counsel, with fairly selected juries, and were granted access to scientific testing, some were acquitted and released. Since 1973, 195 former death-row prisoners have been exonerated of all charges related to the wrongful convictions that had put them on death row.

At Issue

It is now clear that innocent defendants will be convicted and sentenced to death with some regularity as long as the death penalty exists. It is unlikely that the appeals process—which is mainly focused on legal errors and not on factual determinations—will catch all the mistakes. Reforms have been begrudgingly implemented, increasing both the costs and the time that the death penalty consumes, but have not been sufficient to overcome human error. The popularity and use of capital punishment have rapidly declined as the innocence issue has gained attention. The remaining question is how many innocent lives are worth sacrificing to preserve this punishment.

What DPIC Offers

DPIC has led the way in highlighting the issue of innocence. Its list of exonerated individuals is presented in a searchable database, with links to more complete descriptions of each case. DPIC has issued a series of reports on this issue, collecting the latest information on why so many mistakes occur. It also follows the related questions of whether innocent individuals have already been executed and whether some defendants are in fact innocent, despite not being completely exonerated in the eyes of the law.

News & Developments


Sep 08, 2023

Former Oregon Death Row Prisoner Freed 2 Years After Reversed Conviction, 194th Death Row Exoneration

On September 5, 2023, Jesse Johnson (pic­tured) was released from Marion County Jail in Oregon when pros­e­cu­tors for­mal­ly declined to retry him for the 1998 mur­der of Harriet Thompson. Mr. Johnson was con­vict­ed of Ms. Thompson’s mur­der in 2004 and sen­tenced to death. In ask­ing the Marion County Circuit Court to dis­miss the case against Mr. Johnson, the coun­ty District Attorney’s office stat­ed that based upon the amount of time that has passed and the unavail­abil­i­ty of crit­i­cal evi­dence in this case, the state no longer believes that it can…

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Nov 14, 2023

$9.1 million wrongful conviction settlement for Pennsylvania death row exoneree Walter Ogrod

Death-row exoneree Walter Ogrod’s fed­er­al law­suit against the City of Philadelphia and mem­bers of the Philadelphia Police Department was set­tled for $9.1 mil­lion on November 3, 2023. Mr. Ogrod, who was exon­er­at­ed in 2020 after 23 years on death row, was ini­tial­ly con­vict­ed in 1996 based on a coerced con­fes­sion and false tes­ti­mo­ny from jail­house infor­mants in a case fur­ther taint­ed by police and pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al mis­con­duct and inad­e­quate legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion at tri­al. In a state­ment con­firm­ing the set­tle­ment, offi­cials said The city remains com­mit­ted to trans­paren­cy in the pur­suit of…

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Oct 12, 2023

Republican-Led State Legislative Committee Considers Death Penalty Moratorium in Oklahoma

On October 5, 2023, the Oklahoma House Judiciary Criminal Committee met to dis­cuss ongo­ing con­cerns regard­ing the state’s cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment sys­tem and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of rec­om­mend­ing a mora­to­ri­um on exe­cu­tions. Republican Representative Kevin McDugle (pic­tured) called for the meet­ing and is a long­time sup­port­er of the death penal­ty. He spoke of his increas­ing con­cern regard­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of exe­cut­ing an inno­cent per­son, par­tic­u­lar­ly cit­ing the case of Richard Glossip, who has long main­tained his inno­cence. At the meet­ing, Rep. McDugle told his col­leagues that there are cas­es right now… [of]…

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Sep 27, 2023

Former Texas Death Row Prisoner Clinton Young Sues Prosecutor for Misconduct

On September 18, 2023, for­mer Texas death-sen­tenced pris­on­er Clinton Young filed a fed­er­al civ­il rights law­suit in the Western District of Texas, accus­ing two Midland County dis­trict attor­neys, the pros­e­cu­tor on his case, and Midland County itself, for vio­lat­ing his con­sti­tu­tion­al right to a fair tri­al. Just four months after his 18th birth­day in 2001, Mr. Young and two oth­ers, David Page and Darnell McCoy, went on a drug-induced spree that result­ed in the deaths of two indi­vid­u­als. In 2003, Mr. Young was sen­tenced to death for these mur­ders. He…

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Sep 20, 2023

Glynn Simmons Exonerated 48 Years After He Was Sentenced to Death in Oklahoma

Glynn Simmons, who was con­vict­ed and sen­tenced to death in Oklahoma in 1975, has been exon­er­at­ed after Oklahoma County District Attorney Vicki Behenna dropped charges against him. Mr. Simmons told The Black Wall Street Times, I’m hap­py, and I’m free. It’s a long, long strug­gle. … We need to reimag­ine jus­tice and how we do it.” DA Behenna said of the case, One of the things that I stand by very strong­ly is a defen­dan­t’s right to a fair tri­al, where he has all the evi­dence to defend him­self. That did­n’t happen…

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Sep 11, 2023

John Grisham on Robert Roberson: Texas may execute an innocent man”

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, nov­el­ist John Grisham recounts the flawed sci­ence that led to the con­vic­tion of Robert Roberson (pic­tured, with his daugh­ter Nikki) and the inad­e­quate legal process that has main­tained that con­vic­tion. Mr. Roberson was con­vict­ed and sen­tenced to death for the 2002 death of his 2‑year-old daugh­ter Nikki. His con­vic­tion relied on a the­o­ry of shak­en baby syn­drome” that has since been dis­cred­it­ed. After a hear­ing ordered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a Texas judge rub­ber­stamped a brief sub­mit­ted by Anderson…

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Aug 31, 2023

Court Ruling Makes Formerly Death-Sentenced Pervis Payne Eligible for Parole in Four Years

On August 30, 2023, the Tennessee Criminal Court of Appeals affirmed a low­er court’s rul­ing that for­mer­ly death-sen­tenced pris­on­er Pervis Payne can serve his two life sen­tences con­cur­rent­ly, mak­ing him eli­gi­ble to apply for parole in less than four years. Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan resen­tenced Mr. Payne in 2022 to two life sen­tences with the pos­si­bil­i­ty of parole after pros­e­cu­tors con­ced­ed that they could not dis­prove Mr. Payne’s claim that he is intel­lec­tu­al­ly dis­abled and there­fore inel­i­gi­ble for the death penal­ty. The state appealed Judge Skahan’s ruling,…

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Aug 29, 2023

Newly Discovered Death Row Exoneration in 1967 Murder Case

Larry Hudson has been added to DPIC’s Descriptions of Innocence page as a new­ly-dis­cov­ered death row exon­er­a­tion. Mr. Hudson was tried and sen­tenced to death for a rob­bery-homi­cide in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1967, when he was 19 years old. He was exon­er­at­ed in 1993, when he was 46 years old.

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Aug 11, 2023

After Spending 41 Years in Prison, Former Death Row Prisoner Gary Tyler Debuts First Solo Art Exhibition

Gary Tyler was just 16 years old when he was charged with shoot­ing a white stu­dent in 1974 and sen­tenced to death, a crime that, many wit­ness­es agree, he did not com­mit. Mr. Tyler, then a sopho­more in high school in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, was rid­ing a school bus that was attacked by a seg­re­ga­tion­ist mob. In the chaos, some­one fired a shot that killed a 13-year-old white boy, Timothy Weber. After Mr. Tyler, who is Black, spoke to one of the deputies, he was arrest­ed for alleged­ly disturbing…

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