Why do prisoners on death row have to wait sometimes as long as 20 years before they are executed? Given the heinous crimes that they have committed.

Granted At least 4.1% of all defendants sentenced to death in the US in the modern era are innocent. If it's proven unequivocally, without a doubt and overwhelming evidence, why so long? Is it process?

  • 2
    I wonder if this question would be a better fit at Law.
    – Joe C
    Jun 23, 2019 at 16:35
  • 5
    "Given the heinous crimes that they have committed." They have been convicted of heinous crimes, but they have not always committed these crimes. I suggest you edit that sentence to clarify the distiction between commiting a crime and being convicted, as described in your second paragraph. Also please cite the 4.1% statiistic
    – James K
    Jun 23, 2019 at 18:04

1 Answer 1


An execution would be extremely final. No possibility of release, or compensation. So the legal system has evolved elaborate safeguards to make sure all death row inmates can exhaust all their appeals. (One could argue that life sentences deserve the same level of scrutiny, but that might overburden the system.)

Some people in the US share your opinion that this delay is excessive. A majority seems to agree with the safeguards, both people who want to keep the death penalty for extreme cases and people who would rather abolish it completely.

And there is no proof without doubt -- this is why the law talks about beyond reasonable doubt. Yet even confessions have been shown to be coerced.

So, there are countries with swift executions. The rule of law is strong enough in the US that they're not one of them.

  • You may also want to discuss AEDPA and the long-running pattern of SCOTUS summarily reversing Ninth Circuit habeas grants.
    – Kevin
    Jun 23, 2019 at 21:10

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