In the 2014 Legislative session, Attorney General Luther Strange is trying to speed up the execution process, citing long delays for the families of victims. House Bill 216 is the vehicle by which he is trying to accomplish that goal. The bill would provide that the direct appeal in a death penalty case run simultaneously with any post-conviction relief. The bill is being fast-tracked without enough time for meaningful investigation of all the implications.
The implications are numerous. Here are just a few. First, to hurry up an established process will make it less likely that flaws in convictions will be discovered. Not only will that lead to the affirming of wrongful convictions, but also to the execution of the innocent. That, alone, is enough reason that this bill should fail.
Second, how is this bill going to be funded? One of the biggest flaws in Alabama’s death penalty system is the lack of funds to pay lawyers to handle these cases. Death penalty cases require highly-skilled, experienced criminal attorneys. If the state wants to put someone to death, shouldn’t it at least be required to pay competent counsel?
Third, the passage of HB 216, will lead to more litigation. There will be a flood of litigation related to this bill alone should it become law. That will cost the state millions.
Fourth, if the appeals and post-conviction relief run simultaneously, will there be a method by which to allege ineffective assistance of counsel of appellate counsel? If not, then the bill is flawed in yet another way.
As the number of the innocent freed from prison mounts, can we afford to short cut the procedural safe guards in an already problematic system? We think not.