When Technicalities Mar The Quest For Justice
Prisoners’ rights were dealt a major blow recently when the Supreme Court ruled that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996 may eliminate the power of the federal court to reverse decisions made in the lower courts. The majority opinion writer, Justice Clarence Thomas, argued that the issues of serial litigation undercut the goals of retribution and deterrence that the law strives to accomplish. For anyone behind bars in this country, the fallout of the decision is monumental in terms of quashing appeals before they ever begin.
Understanding the Appeals Process
When a criminal defendant chooses to challenge a conviction, they typically take the case through state court, then federal court, and, eventually the Supreme Court through a motion to appeal. Defendants are allowed to file appeals based on a number of issues, including issues with procedural errors, inadequate counsel, misconduct by the prosecution or a jury member, evidentiary concerns, or judicial errors. An affirmed appeal means the defendant could get a whole new trial, unless the original judgment is adjusted or reversed.
Time Limits with AEDPA
Getting appeals heard at the federal level is a challenging process for many reasons, not the least of which is time limits called out in AEDPA. Prior to its ’96 passage, federal courts reversed as many as two-thirds of capital cases. Since AEDPA passed, that number has plummeted by over 50 points to just 12 percent. Why the nosedive? AEDPA establishes a one-year clock in which an appeal must be filed. But any lawyer will tell you that one years is not nearly enough time to gather the evidence and file the paperwork necessary for a successful appeal. As an aside, the deadline was set in an effort to streamline death row cases through the appeals process, but the fact is, the average amount of time from sentencing to execution in capital cases has literally doubled since the law was enacted.
One Real Case Illustrates the Injustice
The problems created by the one-year time limit are very real and hold tragic consequences. Barry Jones is one defendant who appealed based on inadequate counsel. Four federal judges agreed that he had poor counsel throughout numerous stages of his case. Nevertheless, a Supreme Court decision negated the federal court’s ruling, not because the arguments lacked soundness, but because the case bled over the time limit. That means that for Jones, innocence is less important than an arbitrary timeline.
The Right to Appeal
Regrettably the AEPNA rules apply to all criminal cases, not just capital cases. Undeniably anyone convicted of a crime is entitled to an appeal if desired. But a successful appeal can involve a complex process plagued with rules and restrictions. At the Law Office of Julia Kefalinos, our experienced and determined Miami criminal defense attorneys are tenacious, and will work doggedly on your behalf. To discuss your case, schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.