The Federal Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005 [previous commentary here] is facing growing opposition. The bill, introduced by Sen. Kyl and Rep. Lungren would severely restrict Federal Habeas Corpus review. Therefore the poorly titled "streamlined procedures".
Opposition is coming from all quarters, however, and not just from defense lawyers. The LATimes reports [requires registration - if you don't want to register, go here]
Concerns come not only from death-penalty opponents but from individuals and groups not often thought of as vocal supporters of the rights of criminal defendants.
Among the critics are the Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal
group that specializes in religious freedom and antiabortion issues;
Bob Barr, the conservative Republican former congressman from Georgia;
more than 50 former prosecutors; and more than a dozen former federal
The legislation, opponents say, would dramatically restrict federal
courts’ ability to consider habeas corpus petitions from state
prisoners who claim that their constitutional rights have been violated
or that they have evidence they are innocent.
Sen. Kyl says that the restrictions imposed by the AEDPA aren’t enough and cites an increase in the number of petitions filed – almost 10,000 over the last 10 years. Gee, you think maybe it’s because of longer and stricter sentencing?
Kyl said the bill had an exception that would enable innocent people to obtain relief from a wrongful conviction.
But the former judges â€” including William H. Webster and William S.
Sessions, both of whom served as directors of the FBI in Republican
administrations â€” countered that "the language of the exception is so
narrow that it will cover virtually no one."
The former jurists
also said the bill would overturn several recent Supreme Court
decisions interpreting the 1996 death penalty act "as well as several
other decisions of the Rehnquist court, many of which have helped to
further streamline the system and eliminate delays. It serves no one’s
interests to engender the kind of delays that this bill will create" by
precipitating more litigation.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys united in their criticism:
At the [first senate] hearing, Seth P. Waxman, who was U.S. solicitor general in
the Clinton administration, described four death penalty cases in the
last four years in which the Supreme Court found major constitutional
violations overlooked by state courts. In one instance, prosecutors hid
critical information from the defense. In another, the Supreme Court
found that prosecutors had improperly kept blacks off a jury. If the
Kyl-Lungren bill had been in effect, none of those cases would ever
have been reviewed by a federal court, Waxman said.
Attorney Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which had
played a key role in freeing more than 100 wrongly convicted people â€”
eight of whom had been on death row â€” said a number of those people
would be in prison or dead if the proposed legislation had been in
Scheck told the Judiciary Committee that the proposed
law turned the lesson of those cases "on its head. It threatens to make
what is already a torturous, difficult mountain for the wrongfully
convicted to climb into a wholly impenetrable steel wall."
Anyone who does Habeas work knows how difficult it is to get a petition granted. Case law restrictively defines ineffective assistance and the actual innocence standard is torturous. Hopefully, this legislation won’t pass. Thanks to Howard Bashman for the link.