Late last week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Troy Davis’s petition for a hearing to prove his innocence. Although seven of the nine non-police witnesses against him have recanted or contradicted their trial testimony, that evidence will not be heard unless the United States Supreme Court decides differently. Troy Davis still has a 30-day stay of execution to file a petition with the Supreme Court.
The 11th Circuit refused to hear Davis’ claims of innocence by a 2-1 vote. The decision was largely based on the onerous procedural obstacles that a death row inmate must overcome before a federal court will consider the merits of his or her constitutional claims – in Troy’s case, his claim that the execution of an innocent person violates the cruel or unusual punishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.
These procedural restrictions are the result of the federal Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), enacted in 1996. AEDPA was designed to expedite the execution of death-row inmates by streamlining the appeals process. But the Troy Davis case is a tragic illustration of AEDPA’s fundamental flaws. The law elevates procedural niceties over fairness and justice by preventing some death-row inmates from proving their innocence because their evidence or claim of innocence was presented too late.
The dissenting judge in Troy’s case stated, “[t]o execute Davis, in the face of a significant amount of proffered evidence that may establish his actual innocence, is unconscionable and unconstitutional.” We agree.
While Davis’s lawyers are working their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, you can still take action by voicing your opposition to horrific injustice. Visit Amnesty International’s website for an update of actions you can take.