MONTGOMERY—The ACLU of Alabama, Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty in Alabama, the NAACP, and the Equal Justice Initiative confronted a Joint House and Senate hearing today regarding the proposed “Fair Justice Act” that would erroneously accelerate the death penalty appeals process and create greater room for serious judicial error.
“Bill supporters claim that the current appeals process takes a long time. It is true. It does take a long time. But that time is absolutely necessary to ensure that mistakes aren’t made and more innocent people aren’t slaughtered,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama.
The current appeals process consists of three steps. First there is a Direct Appeal which reviews only the written record. This followed by the Rule 32 Appeal which reviews all facets of the trial including examining the quality of counsel, new evidence, and misconduct. The last step is a Federal Appeal which performs a final review. The “Fair Justice Act” would create a bifurcated appeals process by having the Direct Appeal and Rule 32 appeals processes performed concurrently.
“This creates big margins for errors. For example, the bill calls for the appointment of counsel for both limbs of the appeal, but it doesn’t specify if each is being handled by different counsel,” said Susan Watson. “If a judge thinks one attorney can handle it all, it is likely that the defense will be inadequate.”
“We are for a fair and equal judicial process,” she adds. “We are not against punishments for those who are guilty of heinous crimes. We are against innocent individuals being sentenced to death for crimes they do not commit. Accelerating the appeals process is not the answer.”