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DUPS Amicus: Miscarriages of Justice and the Death Penalty

The execution of George Stinney Jr. could be regarded as one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in regards to the death penalty in the United States. At just 14 years old, he was the youngest person to be executed in the United States in the 20th century when he was executed in 1944. Stinney Jr. was sentenced to death for the murder of two white girls in South Carolina. The details of his trial demonstrate the lack of justice he received. Within the space of three months Stinney Jr. had been arrested and executed. During his interrogation he was kept from his parents and legal counsel. His trial lasted under three hours and reportedly lacked evidence and witness testimonies. Due to the clear lack of a fair trial and the high probability of his confession having been coerced, his conviction was overturned in 2014, on the basis that the South Carolina court failed to grant George Stinney Jr. a fair trial.

Whilst many may feel that 1944 was a long time ago and that miscarriages of justice, like in the case of George Stinney Jr., could not possibly happen in the United States today, ‘miscarriages of justice in the United States capital punishment system have not been ironed out with the passage of time’.[1]

Multiple reasons can contribute to the lack of justice within the capital punishment system such as bad laws, political pressure and inherent prejudice. In 86 death row exoneration cases, it was found that the reason these innocent people were wrongly convicted included: eyewitness error, police and prosecutorial misconduct, “junk science”, jailhouse informant testimony and false or coerced confessions[2]. Since 1970 more than 150 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence.[3] When this is considered alongside the fact that, since 1976, 1,429 people have been executed there is an approximate rate of one exoneration for every nine executions in the United States. This rate only serves to demonstrate the potential for error and the lack of justice given to those who are sentenced to the death penalty. Bryan Stevenson (founder of the Equal Justice Initiative) summarised the problem with this statistic when he said “we would never let people fly on airplanes if for every nine planes that took off one would crash.”[4] So why do we allow this statistic to apply the capital punishment system?

When discussing the miscarriages of justice within the United States capital punishment system, it only becomes more obvious that this system requires a complete overhaul in order to prevent miscarriages of justice, like in the case of George Stinney Jr., from being repeated time and time again.

Georgia Edmondson

DUPS Amicus

21 January 2019


[2] Wrongful convictions centre, Northwestern Law School 2001

[3] Staff report, House judiciary sub committee on civil and constitutional rights, 1933

The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes above.

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