Within the capital punishment debate, both sides share at least one assumption: No innocent should ever receive the death penalty. In an important new study, the Center for Death Penalty Litigation explains how North Carolina has come dangerously close to that error.

The report, “On Trial For Their Lives: The Hidden Costs Of Wrongful Capital Prosecutions in North Carolina,” unveils disturbing facts about capital prosecutions in this state. Among its findings:

  • “56 cases where prosecutors sought the death penalty despite a clear lack of evidence, resulting in acquittal or dismissal of charges.”
  • “112 years spent in jail by wrongfully prosecuted people.”
  • “An average of two people per year targeted for the death penalty despite little evidence of guilt.”
  • “60 percent of wrongful capital prosecutions involve the testimony or statements of unreliable witnesses.”
  • “Nearly $2.4 million spent on pursuing weak cases capitally.”

The CDPL tells this story through bracing tales of real people put on trial for their lives. People like Jermaine Smith, Chris Gordon Brooks, and Leslie Lincoln put a human face on the statistics, magnifying their power. As the report shows, victims of wrongful prosecution come from all backgrounds and all corners of the state. Even so, there is inequity: “African-Americans represent only about 22 percent of North Carolina’s population, but 50 percent of defendants in this study were African-American.”

Regardless of one’s opinions on the death penalty, this striking new report raises facts that cannot be ignored. The capital prosecution system contains undeniable flaws. All who believe in a fair system of justice should take in “On Trial For Their Lives.”

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