This is one of the questions before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, in Atlanta, which is currently considering Troy Davis’ petition for permission to try again to get a hearing on evidence that he is innocent. The fact that executing someone even if they “establish actual innocence” is up for debate demonstrates how far our system has veered off the path of justice.
Innocence, you see, is just one – just one – of the factors that go into a decision on whether or not a person can be put to death by the state. There are also procedural questions: if a prisoner could have brought up his evidence of innocence sooner, but didn’t, then the courts will simply look the other way, even if that evidence compellingly establishes that he is not guilty. His evidence of innocence doesn’t count, even if it reveals the truth.
Former Judge and FBI Director Williams Sessions has an excellent op-ed in today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution, making precisely this point. It may be wrong to execute an innocent man, but it is not, as yet, unconstitutional. Hopefully, the Eleventh Circuit will see the Troy Davis case as a way to change that.