Making It Easier To Kill
Lungren, a Republican from California, has introduced a bill with an innocuous title, the Streamlined Procedures Act. In reality, it is a heinous bill intended to make it even harder for a state death row inmates to seek federal habeas relief before their State kills them. As the evidence mounts that our death penalty system is broken and that innocent people have been executed.....just when you'd think people would want to be more cautious than ever and take every precaution that we haven't murdered the innocent....Congress decides "you know what? Death row inmates have too many chances to appeal. Let's make it easier to kill them. Well, easier than we already have...."
You see, Congress has already restricted the ability of federal courts to hear habeas claims with the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). (What do those two things have to do with each other? Well, the title makes more sense when you realize AEDPA was passed in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombings.)
The reasoning, if you can call it that, behind AEDPA was that too many death row inmates were clogging federal courts and needlessly delaying their executions with frivolous claims. Its advocates wanted the punishment to more closely follow the crime. But this reasoning was deeply flawed. Between 1976 and 1991, federal courts found reversal-worthy constitutional error in 47 % of the state death penalty cases they reviewed.
Hardly a ringing endorsement of the effectiveness of our judicial system. Hardly evidence that death row inmates are all wasting our time with frivolous claims. Hardly evidence that we should be restricting their right to appeal.
But that's what Congress did. And since the passage of AEDPA, there have been no major reforms of our criminal justice system....no reason to believe the rate of error (or the risk of executing innocents) is any lower. Indeed, the DNA tests in Illinois a couple years back found more innocent people than guilty people.
Unless you just don't give a damn about the functioning of our justice system and the possibility of executing innocent people, you should not support the Streamlined Procedures Act.
If crazy liberals like George F. Will and Pat Robertson support a moratorium on the death penalty, perhaps even Dan Lungren can realize that making it easier for states to kill is not the way to go.
(This post is dedicated to Robert Dale Conklin. May he rest in peace.)
Update: Pat Robertson link corrected.