Honors Program

University Honors

Date of Award


Thesis Professor(s)

Bradley Edwards

Thesis Professor Department

Criminal Justice and Criminology

Thesis Reader(s)

Jennifer Pealer


The death penalty has had many regulations placed since its first use in America to make the process more equitable, but people are still being wrongfully sentenced to die. Using a data set of 139 exonerations over a period from 1980 to 2021, the current study examined some prominent factors in wrongful death penalty convictions and how these factors have changed or endured over time. The major findings revealed that racial disparity still exists in the legal process, but it is declining. Exonerees are more likely to have three or more contributing factors (perjury or false accusation, official misconduct, false or misleading forensic evidence, et cetera) in their wrongful death penalty convictions. Official misconduct and perjury or false accusation are by far the most common reasons for a wrongful conviction. The current study also found that often, DNA is not available to test or is simply not being tested, and there is a downward trend overall in the amount of DNA testing being done. Recommendations for further improvements are discussed.


East Tennessee State University

Document Type

Honors Thesis - Open Access

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


Copyright by the authors.