Protecting prisoners’ rights and avoiding executions of innocent people in federal courts is nigh onto impossible.
A man is on death row in part because of poor lawyering. Four federal judges have agreed the man may well be innocent but the Supreme Court couldn’t overturn his conviction or stop the state from executing him because of a Clinton-era law and the Supreme Court majority’s placing finality over valid innocence claims of potentially innocent prisoners.
That is exactly the case in Shinn v. Martinez Ramirez where the high court, in a 6-3 decision on May 23, said the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, known as AEDPA (ed-puh), forbade them to do anything about it. The law, created during the tough-on-crime ‘90s to keep violent prisoners from getting released on what politicians called technicalities, actually keeps innocent people in prison on technicalities. Under the logic of this Court, innocent people will die because of “technicalities”.
This case is but another sign that the Courts are increasingly unlikely to address the failings of the death penalty. Efforts to abolish capital punishment as a remedy for crime must be directed with new energy to our legislatures. We call on you once again to contact your representatives and senators at both the state and federal levels to urge repeal of the death penalty.