163, 13, and 122. In recent years, our criminal justice system has come under greater scrutiny as technology has allowed us to reexamine cases. 163 people have been cleared by DNA evidence. 13 of those 163 were people on death row. And 122 death row defendants have been exonerated of wrongdoing (with or without DNA) in the “modern” era of the death penalty (post-1976). On November 14, Speaking Freely opined about the “shocking, unjust, and unacceptable” system of capital punishment in America, and the very next day Harold Wilson of Philadelphia was acquitted at retrial after 16 years on PA’s death row.
So how do some members of Congress respond? By introducing legislation known as the Streamlined Procedures Act that would, essentially, cut off state prisoners’ access to the federal courts. Apparently, some in Congress don’t want these innocence cases to see the light of day, and they certainly don’t want the federal courts examining whether or not a person’s constitutional rights have been violated. (“Constitutional rights? A mere technicality.”)
About a month ago, ACLU-PA sent out an action alert on this issue. Several newspapers have also strongly denounced this legislation, most recently The Birmingham News (“Denying due process“) and the Los Angeles Times (“A rush to execution“).