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Posted May 15, 2017 03:06 pm CDT
Alabama legislation designed to streamline capital appeals increases the risk that an innocent person will be executed, according to ABA President Linda A. Klein.
The May 12 letter (PDF), written on behalf of the ABA, says the legislation known as the Fair Justice Act “suffers from serious problems.” The bill, which passed in the Alabama Senate on April 19, would require defendants to seek post-conviction relief at the same time they are pursuing a direct appeal, AL.com reported last month.
One version of the bill, in the Alabama House, requires capital defendants to assert all post-conviction claims in an initial petition filed within 180 days of the filing of the direct appeal, resulting in a “doubled up process,” the ABA letter says. The Senate version of the bill requires the initial petition with all claims to be filed within a year of the filing of the direct appeal.
The deadline would “make Alabama an outlier” and would limit lawyers’ ability to conduct the post-conviction investigation, according to Klein. ABA guidelines require post-conviction counsel to investigate the work of prior lawyers in capital cases, including the work of lawyers on direct appeal. Typically, lawyers need to review thousands of pages of trial records, witness statements, police and medical documents and other evidence to adequately prepare.
“While the ABA respects the importance of finality and judicial efficiency,” the letter says, “quicker resolution of cases where a life is at stake should not take priority over ensuring fundamental fairness and accuracy of those convictions.”
The bill’s waiver provision could also have the unintended effect of increasing the time to litigate post-conviction appeals, the letter says. The provision tells courts to consider post-conviction claims to be waived if they are not brought within the initial deadline.
“These waived claims will still necessitate subsequent review by state and federal judges who will need to evaluate whether waiver was caused by ineffective counsel and who could send the cases back to lower state courts for additional review,” the letter says. could send the cases back to lower state courts for additional review,” the letter says.
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