Modern pressures on the judicial system have raised the chance a defendant could be wrongly sentenced to death, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said yesterday, explaining his changed view on the constitutionality of capital punishment. “The risk of an incorrect decision has increased,” he told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit annual conference in Columbus, Ohio, reports USA Today. He said that because of advances in DNA testing, which have led to the freeing of some innocent convicts, “we’re more aware of the risk than we might have been before.”
In a lethal-injection dispute from Kentucky two years ago, Stevens concluded for the first time that “the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions” to society. Stevens said capital juries are dominated by people who favor the death penalty. He said the brutality of the murders that often lead to a capital trial can put pressure on prosecutors. “The dynamics of the litigation,” said Stevens, who is retiring this summer, raises the risk of “incorrect decisions” regarding who should be sentenced to die.