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Abstract

The thesis of this article is that low reversal rates mean serious errors are not being detected and corrected. The research will focus on Missouri, which has very low reversal rates of 15% in federal court and 20% in state court. The data to address this question comes from the clemency petitions submitted to the governor as the last step in the process of executing the death penalty. These petitions illustrate the range and magnitude of the claims of legal problems in one state. The clemency petitions provide the most complete and full statement of the condemned's case, because these petitions are the condemned's opportunity to persuade the governor to intervene in the legal process and spare his or her life. Clemency petitions are different from other legal appeals in that the statements are neither limited by evidentiary rules of admissibility nor defined by the procedural requirements of jurisdictional precedent. Nonetheless, these claims are grounded in verifiable facts. Minimally, they raise questions which have been unresolved by the courts. These appeals to the governor are pleas that attempt to tell the petitioner's story in clear and understandable language, to persuade the governor to look into the merits of the claims in the hopes of preventing miscarriages of justice. They are not simple pleas for mercy.