Wrongful Convictions and Executions

There are two types of wrongful convictions and executions that are of concern when harsh punishments are imposed. The first is the wrongful conviction and execution of innocent men and women. The second is the imposition of a particularly excessive punishment, such as the death penalty, on persons who have insufficient moral culpability due to severe mental illness, intellectual disability, significant trauma or impairments, and young age. Sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole is another example.


According the the National Registry of Exonerations, 2015 set a record for exonerations in the United States —149 known cases in 29 states, the District of Columbia, the federal courts, and Guam. This record continues a trend: the rate of exonerations has been increasing rapidly for several years. The 149 defendants who were exonerated in 2015 had served on average about 14-and-a-half years in prison. Seven individuals were released from death row in 2015, bringing the national total of people who have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to die to more than 150.

Severe Mental Impairments

In 2015, America had the lowest number of executions in 25 years. Of the 28 people executed, 68% were mentally impaired or disabled, or experienced extreme childhood trauma and abuse. An examination of the 2015 cases that resulted in execution reveal a disturbing pattern: It’s frequently not just one impairment, such as a low IQ score, that defines these cases, but rather multiple forms of disability and impairment.