The Problem

A Broken System

If statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed…Serious questions are being raised about whether the death penalty is being fairly administered in this country. Perhaps it’s time to look at minimum standards for appointed counsel in death cases and adequate compensation for appointed counsel when they are used.

Sandra Day O’Connor 7/2/2001, speech to the Minnesota Women Lawyers group

The American criminal justice system is broken. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the 1970s, 123 people have been exonerated from death row in 25 states – roughly one for every eight executed. In fact, the most comprehensive study of capital trials ever conducted found that nearly seven of every 10 death sentences handed down by state courts from 1973 to 1995 were overturned due to “serious, reversible error,” including egregiously incompetent defense counsel, suppression of exculpatory evidence, false confessions, racial manipulation of the jury, snitch and accomplice testimony, and faulty jury instructions.

From prosecutors to victims’ rights groups, from defense lawyers to judges to law enforcement, reasonable people agree that our system of justice must protect the innocent and punish the guilty—not the other way around.

Since 1999, The Justice Project has led several national campaigns and initiatives that have resulted in significant reforms to the death penalty system and the larger criminal justice system as a whole. We have also played a pivotal role in advancing state reforms by identifying potential opportunities in target states and adapting our four core strategies for reform — legislative advocacy, communications, coalition building, and grassroots mobilization — to each specific state.