Oct. 21, 2005 – After temporarily shelving a measure that would severely restrict the rights of criminal defendants to challenge state convictions in the federal court system and restrain federal judges from reviewing death-penalty convictions, the Senate is set to consider an alternate bill with many of the same provisions. The federal judiciaryâ€™s policy-making body opposes the efforts.
- Federal Appeals Process for Death Penalty Cases in Jeopardy (Jul 12, 2005)
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Last week, the Senate decided to delay a vote on The Streamlined Procedures Act (SPA) of 2005 after receiving two separate letters from the Judicial Conference cautioning that the act would interfere with federal courtsâ€™ ability to review all manner of capital convictions in state courts, The National Law Journal reported yesterday. Some Democratic Senators had raised objections to the act as well.
Introduced by Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), SPA would place barriers on defendants seeking federal review of their convictions under habeas corpus, a centuries-old legal maneuver providing the only means by which a person can bring a state conviction to the federal judiciary short of going to the Supreme Court. Additionally, the SPA would bar federal courts from opening examinations into many, if not most, state death-penalty convictions, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Supporters of the SPA say the law is the only means to unclog what they see as a backlog of cases awaiting federal review. Opponents warn that passage of the bill represents a drastic departure from long-standing practices in the nationâ€™s court system.
Official court records show that the number of habeas cases resolved each year is nearly the same as the number filed, The National Law Journal reported, indicating that no such backlog exists.
Instead of acting on the SPA, the Senate is preparing to hold hearings on an amended version offered by Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania). The Specter measure lessens restrictions on federal oversight but holds onto rules requiring a convict seeking federal review to demonstrate innocence before a federal court may intervene, The National Law Journal said.
Senate hearings on Specterâ€™s bill are schedule for October 26.