|Abstract||Recent legislation in the United States Senate, about to be considered by the House of Representatives, would limit federal habeas corpus, the legal procedure by which prisoners can go to federal courts to argue that they were unconstitutionally punished or sentenced. Under current procedures, a habeas corpus petition, based upon newly discovered evidence, must "make it more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted the petitioner." Under the new legislation, a habeas corpus petitioner would have to bring forward evidence "clearly and convincingly" establishing that no reasonable juror would have convicted him. The shift from a "more likely than not" to a more stringent "clear and convincing evidence" standard makes it more difficult for a prisoner to succeed in habeas corpus review. The change is designed, in large part, to reduce the, often lengthy, period between the imposing of a death sentence upon a convict and his execution. Critics of the new legislation point out that in the last twenty years fifty-four Americans under sentence of death have been released from prison because of evidence of their innocence. Is the new legislation limiting federal habeas corpus review morally justifiable? If so, why?
If not, why not? |