Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

September 19, 2005 - Arizona Republic (AZ)

Stones In The Pathway Of Justice

By Dale A. Baich

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

One concept both sides of the death-penalty debate can embrace is this: If America continues to allow people to be executed, we better make absolutely certain those getting the ultimate punishment are both truly guilty and deserving of capital punishment. Legislation quietly wending through Congress would create more uncertainty in the application of the death penalty.

After the Senate Judiciary Committee concludes hearings on the John Roberts' nomination to the Supreme Court, it will consider a bill to strip federal courts of the power to review state criminal cases for constitutional error.

The Streamlined Procedures Act, authored by Jon Kyl (R. Ariz.), is being steamrolled through the United States Senate. If it passes, it will create a conveyor belt to the death chamber and virtually eliminate a hallmark of American justice -the writ of habe! as corpus.

For centuries, habeas corpus has been a means for prisoners to challenge the constitutionality of their convictions or sentences in the federal courts. The Streamlined Procedures Act would eliminate the power of the federal courts to preserve the integrity of the constitution and protect the rights of our citizens. The proposed legislation will fracture the carefully structured mosaic of laws and court decisions that guide the habeas corpus review process.

Nine years ago, Congress amended the habeas corpus statute with the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), and in the process created a colossal, unwieldy law with numerous ambiguous provisions. Since then, federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have been deciphering those provisions and have made the habeas corpus process operate efficiently.

Kyl's legislation would upset many of the decisions the Supreme Court has made to address ambiguities in AEDPA and would introduce additional provisions that would require many years to interpret. A salvo of constitutional challenges would be unleashed. Pending cases, including 63 Arizona death penalty cases now in the federal courts, would be held up while the courts resolve questions about the meaning of the new law.

The legislation comprises a shocking about-face, coming at a time when more and more death row prisoners are proving their actual innocence or demonstrating their trials were unfair - unfair because of misconduct by the prosecutor or because their lawyers were ineffective - most often by asserting their rights under the habeas corpus statute.

Moreover, it comes at a time when Congress is making a concerted effort to improve the administration of justice. Just last year, with the overwhelming passage of the Innocence Protection Act, Congress acknowledged the n! eed for additional safeguards and oversight to prevent errors in our criminal justice system.

President Bush also recognized the need for fair proceedings in death penalty cases in his State of the Union address this year. By limiting federal review, the Streamlined Procedures Act will erode many of these protections.

Habeas corpus review by federal courts is not a mere stall tactic, as supporters of Kyl's legislation suggest. The writ is a pathway to justice.

Sometimes the path is circuitous, but most wrongfully convicted people who are exonerated only establish their innocence after first proving that they received inadequate representation or were victims of serious prosecutorial misconduct.

All too often today, federal habeas corpus proceedings provide the only opportunity to establish constitutional violations that occurred at trial and pave the way for additional proceedings at which innocence can be proved.
It is telling that opposition to Kyl's legislation is coming from some unusual quarters - the Judicial Conference of the United States, the Conference of State Chief Justices, former federal and state judges and prosecutors, the Rutherford Institute, and former Congressman Bob Barr, to name a few.

Since Congress passed the AEDPA nine years ago, many flaws in our administration of justice have come to light. Rather than obliterate the process of federal review, we should do more to ensure that the courts fully and fairly study the merits of these cases.

When it comes to capital punishment, Americans deserve more certitude, not more attitude.

(Dale A. Baich is an assistant federal public defender who handles death penalty appeals. He is an adjunct professor of law at Arizona State University College of Law)

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact