Unreasonable Praise For a Bad Law
For all his accomplishments, President Clinton's strategy of running to the right on crime issues left a notorious legacy known as the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. It purported to make the death penalty "effective" by placing restrictions on federal judicial review of state criminal convictions. The AEDPA requires prisoners to petition the federal court within one year after their state convictions become final (generally when the direct appeal process has been taken to its end) and bans review of most issues that prisoners attempt to raise in successive petitions. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the latter restriction on the theory that it did not suspend habeas corpus but merely required prisoners to make all their claims for relief at one time.
State prisoners who are unaware of the one year limitations period for federal review often lose their right to habeas relief. Because prisoners seeking federal review generally have no right to a lawyer, those who are aware of the time limit often file their own woefully inadequate petitions. If, a couple of years later, the prisoner's family comes up with the money to hire a lawyer, it's often too late, even if the prisoner was unaware that serious constitutional violations deprived him of a fair trial.
The AEDPA was supposed to make the death penalty "effective" by allowing states to kill death row inhabitants more efficiently. It hasn't worked. [more ...]
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