House Holds Hearing On Death Penalty Appeals

December 8, 2009 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties today held a hearing on the need for reform of death penalty appeals. Specifically, the hearing focused on the impact of habeas corpus limitations to pending death penalty sentences. The right to habeas corpus allows those detained by the government to challenge their detention and is a cornerstone of the American justice system.

Since 1973, there have been 139 individuals who have been released from death row through evidence of their innocence, including nine so far in 2009 alone. Death sentences are also disproportionately imposed on people of color, with African Americans comprising more than 40 percent of today’s death row inmates while constituting only 12 percent of the national population.

There is currently a bill pending in the House, H.R. 3986, the Effective Death Penalty Appeals Act, which would ensure the availability of federal habeas corpus relief for defendants sentenced to death but who are later able to present crucial evidence establishing their innocence that may not have been available at the time of trial. The American Civil Liberties Union has endorsed the bill.

The following can be attributed to Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:

“The sentencing of innocent people to death continues to be a fundamental failure of our justice system. Providing federal courts with the opportunity to hear evidence of an individual’s innocence, which may not have been available at the original trial, is an essential component of a fair justice system, and is particularly critical in cases where a defendant has been sentenced to death. There is simply no remedy for the execution of defendants who were not afforded all of their constitutional rights or, even worse, are innocent of the crime charged. The House should pass the Effective Death Penalty Appeals Act as quickly as possible.”

To read the ACLU’s letter of support for the Effective Death Penalty Appeals Act, go to:

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