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What exactly is Justice? The flawed concept behind the death penalty in the US

“Maybe one day the truth will come out,” he said from behind reinforced glass. “I’m hoping it will. If I end up getting executed for this, I don’t think it’s right.”


Capital punishment in the US violates the constitutional federal ban on barbaric and inhumane treatment of individuals, as well as the rights of fair trials and equal protection afforded by the law.

The state must not possess the right to murder its citizens, in the name of the law or the name of its people, and in an arbitrary and discriminating manner.

Law is largely used as a tool for social justice – there is no such thing as ‘just’ in the incorporation of a system based solely on an eye for an eye, focused on seeking vengeance instead of restitution to the victim and rehabilitation.

The system is simply a discriminatory manner against the people, with flaws and holes in many aspects such as the skill of one’s attorney, and the race of the victim as well as the accused.

The criminal justice system is flawed in many ways. Why does the state have the power of taking one’s life if it is impossible to fully determine if the suspect at hand is guilty?

Innocent people are too often sentenced to death. Since 1973, 156 people have been released from death row in 26 states because they were innocent. Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every ten executed - and around 2,500 prisoners faced execution in 2022 alone.

Organisations such as the Innocence Project work to liberate the innocent, avoid wrongful sentences, and establish systems of justice that are fair, humane, and impartial for all. The group was founded in 1992 at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld and is now an autonomous nonprofit.

Since its founding in 1992, the Innocence Project has accumulated over 65,600 emails from incarcerated people requesting assistance in defending their innocence. Staff go through emails chronologically and carefully examine each case request that comes in.

The latest development of technology and increasing use of DNA testing has in fact impacted the work of the Innocence Project by confirming the innocence or guilt in capital cases. And its advancement is among many reforms that will help ensure that innocent people are not sentenced to death.

There have already been 375 cases of exoneration in the US as a result of new DNA testing, including 21 people serving on death row.

The flaws and unexplained holes in cases of the wrongfully convicted were visible as much in the 1980s as they are today.

Such flaws were prevalent in the case of DeLuna, who was convicted of a crime another man committed- the killing of Wanda Lopez, a young woman working at a service station in the city of Corpus Christi. DeLuna was tried in 1983 and argued for his innocence until his last breath.

The 27 year-old even mentioned the criminal who committed the crime, Carlos Hernandez. At his trial, he told the jury he witnessed the murder with his own eyes but the prosecution found his argument rather ridiculous due to the fact the police investigation ruled out any existence of the new suspect. The chief prosecutor concluded that Hernandez was a “figment of DeLuna’s imagination”.

Read the book:

The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution

By James S. Liebman and the Columbia DeLuna Project

Columbia University Press, 2014
448 pp., $27.95

Four years after DeLuna’s execution, Professor of Law at Columbia University, James Liebman along with 12 students successfully revealed that he was innocent. The expert himself, Liebman, commented in his book The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution that “It was a house of cards. We found that everything that could go wrong did go wrong.”

There were no blood samples taken from the police report and analysed for the perpetrator’s blood type. Fingerprinting was addressed so poorly that no usable fingerprints were obtained. A cigarette stub, chewing gum, and beer cans discovered on the Sigmor Shamrock gas station floor – where the crime had taken place – was not forensically examined for saliva or blood.

The victim’s fingernails were not scraped for evidence of the attacker’s epidermis. When Liebman and his students examined digitally improved versions of crime scene photos, they were astounded to discover a man’s shoe print etched in a puddle of Lopez’s blood on the floor – despite the fact that no attempt was made to accurately measure it.

Legal proceedings are in constant flux and development, many improvements such as the use of DNA testing have been introduced into the operations but 100% confidence in one’s guilt and conviction does not seem to exist from 1983 to 2021 when another high profile wrong conviction took place.

Julius Jones, a black man who has been on Oklahoma’s death row for half of his life, was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a white businessman that took place in 1999, despite maintaining his innocence throughout the trial and appeals process.

Jones’ case has received national attention, with advocates arguing that he did not receive a fair trial due to racial bias and inadequate defence. In particular, his defence team failed to present key evidence and witnesses that could have supported his alibi and raised doubts about the prosecution’s case.

In November 2021, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 to recommend that Jones’ death sentence be commuted to life in prison, citing concerns about the fairness of his trial and the possibility of his innocence. But the Governor of Oklahoma Kevin Stitt rejected the recommendation and scheduled Jones’ execution for November of the same year. But just hours before his planned death, Governor Sitt granted Mr Jones clemency and instead sentenced him to life imprisonment without parole.

For every nine people who have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, one person has been identified as innocent, according to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) director. – Bryan Stevenson, in his letter of support for Julius Jones.

He added: “Mr Jones has been steadfast about his innocence and there are unexplained facts inconsistent with guilt”.

Innocent lives are lost, and families destroyed – all on the basis of wrongfully conducted proceedings, weak evidence, and an expectation that a flawed system can produce a 100% sure result.

Written by:


Aleksandra Lasek

Human Rights Section Editor

Warsaw, Poland

Born in Krosno, Poland, in 2006, Aleksandra plans to major in political science in international relations with the ambition to acquire a degree in law. For Harbingers’ Magazine, she writes mostly about politics and social sciences with plans to contribute creative writing and poetry as well.

She started as a contributor for Harbingers’ Magazine in 2022. In 2023, she was promoted twice – first to the role of the Human Rights correspondent and, subsequently, to the Human Rights section editor. As the section editor, she commenced her work by organising the Essay on Women’s Rights Competition, which elected six members of the Women’s Rights Newsroom.

Aleksandra’s academic interests cover history, politics, civil rights movements and any word Mary Wollstonecraft wrote. She is also interested in music (her favourite performers being Dominic Fike, MF DOOM, and The Kooks) and anything that includes the voice of Morgan Freeman.

Aleksandra speaks English, Polish, and Spanish.


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