Death Row Inmates Without Counsel

The National Law Journal has an article today on the refusal of two of the fifty states, Georgia and Alabama, to provide lawyers to inmates on death row for their habeas petitions.

While all states provide counsel in direct appeals, it is the federal courts inmates must turn to when those are exhausted. The habeas petition allows them to argue that their conviction was obtained in violation of a constitutional right--like effective assistance of counsel.

The result, according to critics, is that legitimate claims can go unheard, and post-conviction petitions are generally denied on procedural grounds-an action that ends their effort in state courts and blocks the route to the federal courts.

Examples are numerous, because Alabama makes liberal use of the death penalty. Since 1998, it has sentenced more people to death per capita than any other state. One hundred ninety-four are presently on death row, about 30 without counsel.

These petitions typically require intense investigation of potential claims that are outside of the trial record, investigations that can't be conducted from inside a prison. They require expert knowledge of substantive criminal law and often arcane criminal procedure.

Lilith at LegalWrites has more.

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