Human Fallibility in Capital Punishment

Human fallibility will always be present in capital punishment cases, regardless of the objectivity of the process or the distance that jurors put between themselves and the person on trial. The first issue is the underlying human bias. Each person has it and it cannot be consciously eliminated. In the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson trial, Zorn (1995) for the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Well, friends, juries can be wrong. Dead wrong. Panel members can assemble in a little room after trial and agree as one to illogical, bigoted, emotional or just plain dull-witted conclusions that result in the administration of whimsy, not justice” (par. 7). He goes on to list multiple verdicts which were controversial. Jurors are humans, they perceive facts differently; they can be manipulated by lawyers presenting the case. There are too many factors to consider, and those facts are only facts the way they are presented by the police, not necessarily the reality. The point is, that there is extremely high confidence in the juror-based justice system, which can also decide life or death, and that is inherently flawed.

Another element to consider is the extremely psychological toll on everyone involved in a death penalty case. This includes not only the jurors but prosecutors, judges, and governors. However, jurors are civilians that are not given a choice and are burdened with significant responsibility when being called into the constitutionally mandated jury duty. During the trial, attorneys often personalize the defendant, making an emotional appeal, and many jurors in capital punishment cases have been observed to experience symptoms related to post-traumatic stress during or after the trial (Mitchell, 2013). These issues cannot be corrected, as it is just part of inherent human nature. A significant argument to remove the death penalty in recent years has been focused on the jury, and how it is ultimately unfair for them to decide such ethically and legally challenging decisions. After all, there have been cases, where even governors and state supreme court judges ended up being wrong in their convictions of capital punishment prisoners, only later to find out that errors were made (Death Penalty Information Center, 2010). How can then a group of untrained and unknowing people be expected to bear that burden?


Death Penalty Information Center. (2010). Op-ed: “Capital punishment and human fallibility. Web.

Mitchell, P. (2013). The weight of capital punishment on jurors, justices, governors, & executioners. Verdict. Web.

Zorn, E. (1995). Evidence shows juries as fallible as the rest of us. The Chicago Tribune. Web.

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