01 February 2006

PATRIOT Act Change Limits Habeas Corpus

Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona inserted little-noticed language that could make it harder for state death-row inmates to appeal their cases in federal court.

The provision is one of a handful that neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate has voted on but which Republican lawmakers crafted during closed-door negotiations last year after Democrats had been excluded from the talks.

Another obscure addition, never debated in Congress, would broaden existing laws that prohibit disturbances at any event - such as those involving the president - at which the Secret Service is providing protection. . . . The House has voted for the amended Patriot Act, but the Senate hasn't yet. The death penalty changes would make it easier for states to benefit from faster federal-appellate procedures in capital punishment cases. Under a law that passed in 1996, states that take steps to ensure that poor murder defendants are represented by competent counsel can ask for a fast-track system in which inmates have shorter deadlines to file their appeals.

Under current law, federal courts of appeals decide whether states can speed up processing capital cases. Kyl's change would give that power to the U.S. attorney general.

From here.

The 1996 law (AEDPA) should be repealed, not strengthened. It has turned a process designed to vindicate injustices in state court criminal proceedings into a procedural maze, in an area of law mostly dealt with by pro se prisoners, that even attorneys and judges struggle to apply. They also don't just impact death penalty cases. And, of course, new power for the Secret Service to deal with political protestors is the last thing this country needs.

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