STUDIES: North Carolina's Death Penalty is Error-Prone and Rarely Applied

A new study from North Carolina shows that the state’s death penalty is error-prone and rarely implemented. A study of the death penalty from 1977 to 2009 found that two out of three death sentences were overturned on appeal, an error rate of 67%. The study also found that only 20% of death sentences resulted in an execution.  The review of the state's death penalty was made by Matthew Robinson, a professor of Government & Justice Studies at Appalachian State University. He made a series of  conclusions based on his research:

- Capital punishment is extremely rare. Only about 2.5 percent of murders lead to death sentences, and less than one-third of 1 percent of murders result in cases that end with an execution. According to Robinson, the state averaged more than 600 murders per year between 1977 and 2006, versus only 14.5 death sentences and 1.4 executions per year.
- Capital punishment in the state is characterized by disparities based on race and gender. Between 1976 and 2008, 42% of all murder victims were African-American males, but defendants who were executed for killing African-American males accounted for only 4% of the executions in the state. Caucasian females made up only 13% of all murder victims during the same years, yet 43% of executed defendants were sentenced to death for killing a female Caucasian victim.

- Executions are not a greater deterrent to murder than alternative sanctions such as life imprisonment. The state has not had an execution since August 2006, yet murder rates have declined in that period.
- Capital punishment is more expensive than other major punishments, including life imprisonment. Studies in the state show that capital cases cost three to five times more than non-capital cases, and the state spends $20 million each year at the trial level alone just to maintain the capital punishment system.
- Innocent people are wrongly convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in North Carolina. Seven inmates have been exonerated from death row in the state since 1973.

(M. Robinson, "Face up to the facts and end the death penalty," News & Observer, March 16, 2011).  Read full report.  See Costs, Deterrence and Innocence.