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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

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 Republicans seek to execute the poor

In a move that will ensure that more innocent people will be put to death, Republicans in Congress have launched a new effort to speed up executions in the United States by limiting the ability of those sentenced to death to appeal to federal courts:
The "Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005," introduced into the House of Representatives by California Rep. Dan Lungren and in the Senate by Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, would limit the ability of defendants facing the death sentence to have their cases reviewed by federal courts in what are known as habeas corpus appeals....

"It seeks a radical cutting and slashing of our existing process of habeas corpus reviews of state convictions," University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt said last week in a hearing before the House subcommittee reviewing the legislation. "This new bill would effectively gut habeas corpus review where states have imposed a sentence of death."

Habeas corpus -- the phrase in Latin for "you have the body" -- has been a centerpiece of Anglo-American jurisprudence since it was first developed over 300 years ago in Britain. It gave a defendant the right to have their imprisonment reviewed by a court....

What this will mean is that if you can't afford a good lawyer, you will be executed:

A study headed by Columbia University statistician and political scientist Andrew Gelman of all 5,826 death sentences imposed in the United States between 1973 and 1995 found that 68 per cent were reversed on appeal.

The most common reasons were "egregiously incompetent lawyering, prosecutorial misconduct or suppression of evidence, misintruction of jurors or biased judges or jurors."

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