The Myth of Innocence

By Marquis, Joshua | Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

The Myth of Innocence


Marquis, Joshua, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology


For decades in America, questions about the death penalty centered on philosophical and sometimes religious debate over the morality of the state-sanctioned execution of another human being. Public opinion ebbed and flowed with support for the death penalty, declining as civil rights abuses became a national concern in the 1960s and increasing along with a rapid rise in violent crime in the 1980s. (1)

Those who oppose capital punishment call themselves "abolitionists," (2) clearly relishing the comparison to those who fought slavery in the 19th century. In the mid-1990s these abolitionists, funded by a cadre of wealthy supporters including George Soros and Roderick MacArthur, succeeded in changing the focus of the debate over the death penalty from the morality of executions to questions about the "fundamental fairness" or, in their minds, unfairness of the institution. (3) The abolitionists were frustrated by polling that showed that virtually all groups of Americans supported capital punishment in some form in some cases. (4)

Led by Richard Dieter of the neutral-sounding Death Penalty Information Center, opponents of capital punishment undertook a sweeping make-over of their campaign. (5) In addition to painting America as a rogue state--a wolf among the peaceful lambs of the European Union who had forsaken the death penalty--the latter-day abolitionists sought to convince America that, as carried out, the death penalty was inherently racist, that the unfortunates on death row received wretched and often incompetent defense counsel, and, most appalling, that a remarkable number of those sentenced to death were in fact innocent. (6)

Dieter and his allies pointed to the fact that while African-Americans make up only slightly more than ten percent of the American population, they constitute more than forty percent of those on death row. (7) In addition, they described some cases in which the appointed lawyers were nothing more than golfing pals with the judge making the appointment, that some of these lawyers had no previous experience with murder cases, and that in at least one case the lawyer appears to have slept through portions of the trial. (8)

Abolitionists painted a picture of massive prosecution, funded by the endless resources of the government and pitted against threadbare public defenders either barely out of law school or, if experienced, pulled from the rubbish heap of the legal profession. (9)

But most compelling of all the arguments that called capital punishment "fatally flawed" were the stories of men who had served years on death row, a few coming close to their scheduled execution only to be released because a court had determined that they were "exonerated." Television programs showed dramatic footage of Anthony Porter, freed from Illinois's death row, running into the arms of his savior, Northwestern University journalism professor David Protess. (10) A handful of other stories of "innocents on death row" filled magazines, television programs, and symposia on college campuses across the country.

In the face of horrific crimes like the murder of more than 160 people by Timothy McVeigh, death penalty opponents sought to recruit new converts. By the time of the 2000 presidential campaign, they had succeeded in moving the debate to a point where supporters of capital punishment felt beleaguered and outgunned. (11) A growing number of classic conservatives, from William F. Buckley to Pat Robertson, expressed their mistrust of capital punishment. (12) The arguments succeeded in driving down public support for the death penalty from a high of almost 80% in the late 1980s (13) to a low of around 65% in the year George W. Bush ran against A1 Gore for president. (14)

Recognizing that the polls still showed majority support for the existence of the death penalty, abolitionists started advocating for a "moratorium," suggesting that short of abolition, a halt should be declared to executions while the issue was intensively studied.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Myth of Innocence
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.