Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Opposes the Death Penalty as an Irreversible and Harsh Misuse of Government Power

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An awareness of the fallibility of the legal system and the effects of bias on the courts has led Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund to oppose the death penalty as an irreversible and harsh misuse of government power.

In Lambda’s work fighting sexual orientation bias and advocating for rational HIV policies, the organization confronts the legal system’s fallibility on a daily basis. Courts are as imperfect as the people who occupy their jury rooms, counsel tables, and judicial benches, and much of Lambda’s litigation seeks to correct errors and overturn unjust outcomes that result from personal and societal biases all too frequently not left outside the courtroom door. Concern over error, and particularly error caused by bias, must be at its height in death penalty cases because of the severity and finality of government executions. A Columbia University study of capital cases from 1973-1995 found that 68% of death penalty sentences were so legally flawed that they had to be reversed on appeal. See Paul Barton, Efforts to Put Death Penalty on Hold Continue to Grow, USA TODAY at 5A (July 6, 2000). In addition, 87 innocent people have been released from death row since 1973 as a result of DNA tests, recanted testimony or other new evidence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Peter Grier, Death Penalty Under Siege, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, at 1 (June 5, 2000). These studies raise grave concerns regarding how many people are put to death as a result of legal error that is not uncovered as well as how many are executed who, in fact, are innocent.

February 10, 1999