Fair Trials calls for US Congress to pass legislation to protect habeas corpus review

Article by Fair Trials

Fair Trials has called for remedial legislature in the wake of a ruling by the US Supreme Court that could lead to two men being executed despite evidence that there were flaws in the investigations and trials that led to their convictions.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Shinn v. Ramirez[1] undermines the constitutional right that an accused person should have access to effective assistance of counsel. It is another in a long line of attacks on the rights of individuals to challenge a state conviction that is obtained in violation of fundamental constitutional rights.

In these cases, two men face death sentences in Arizona where they claimed their trial counsel was ineffective, one for failing to investigate evidence of innocence and the other for failing to investigate extreme intellectual disability. After hearing evidence that supported those claims, the lower courts agreed.  The Supreme Court reversed those decisions holding that federal courts cannot hear the very evidence that supported those claims.

The decision comes four weeks after yet another decision curtailing access to federal courts to review unconstitutional state convictions (Brown v. Davenport)

Fair Trials Global CEO Norman L. Reimer said,

“This decision leaves no doubt that the court is determined to slam the federal courthouse door in the faces of wrongfully convicted individuals.

“A criminal legal system that enables a state to imprison or execute an individual who has not had the benefit of effective representation cannot claim to deliver justice. The Supreme Court should not facilitate that outcome by banning lower courts from hearing the very evidence that can establish such a claim.

“The repeated efforts to bar federal review of constitutionally flawed state convictions must end. It is time for Congress to act to reverse the Court’s persistent assault on federal habeas corpus review, a vital aspect of the American justice system.”

Habeas corpus is the process by which a federal court can review whether a conviction is legal.

Not all Supreme Court Justices agree with the decision. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor noted that the decision is “perverse”, “illogical”, and “makes no sense”.

[1] Shinn v. Ramirez addresses two separate cases involving David Martinez Ramirez and Barry Lee Jones.