Issue: Limitations on Federal Review of State Criminal Convictions
Prior proposed legislation would amend federal court procedures for collateral review of habeas corpus petitions from state prisoners.
The CCJ and COSCA adopted a joint resolution urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to delay further action affecting the filing and processing of habeas corpus petitions until a study can be completed. The recommended study would evaluate whether current habeas corpus statutes have led to unwarranted delays in dispositions and, if so, whether there are less disruptive solutions than the far-reaching measures contained in these bills.
The reauthorization of the US Patriot Act in 2006 contained two provisions from the bills considered in the 109th Congress. The “opt-in” proposal is now law. The Attorney General of the United States now decides if a state’s procedures for providing defense counsel to a petitioner qualify for a quicker consideration of the petition under chapter 154 of the AEDPA. The Patriot Act also provided that, once an attorney is appointed for a petitioner, any stay of execution expires no later than 90 days after appointment.
Beginning in the 109th Congress has considered amendments to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) to streamline federal court procedures for collateral review of habeas corpus petitions from state prisoners. The House and Senate bills would have made it more difficult for prisoners to file multiple or amended federal habeas petitions. The complex legislation would, among other things, bar federal judges from hearing appeals based on a sentencing error if a state judge found the error to be “harmless or not prejudicial,” unless the state judge’s finding is “contrary to clearly established federal law.” The legislation would have nullified several U.S. Supreme Court decisions (2 of which clarify how time requirements are calculated under current law; the other regarding clemency review).
It is premature to forecast the degree to which the 111th Congress will focus on such reforms. The federal courts are preparing statistical analyses of habeas corpus litigation in the various circuits. It is hoped that data will inform the policy dialogues.