Death penalty appeals are enormously expensive and take years if not decades. They frustrate the victim’s family, witnesses, law enforcement, and prosecutors. And for what? They don’t ensure that we got it right.
An inmate usually cannot appeal on the basis that he is innocent. Appeals are based on errors. One might think that convicting the innocent is, by definition, error. One would be wrong.
In a jury trial, the jury decides which witnesses are telling the truth and who did what. They do this in secret deliberations. If their conclusion is wrong, that can’t be fixed unless there is also a legal error. Legal errors include a judge ruling contrary to law, a prosecutor hiding evidence, or a defense attorney failing to provide minimal representation.
Even if there is such an error, the inmate usually must also show that, without it, the jury would likely have reached a different verdict, an argument that is difficult to win, since no one knows how they reached the first one. In many cases, errors exist but don’t legally matter.
We have the idea that these appeal courts go through the case again, making sure the jury made the right decision. Not so.