In this NYT Op Ed, based on ideas more fully developed in the book, we argue Congress should take action to reform habeas policy: [See Above the Law, here, selecting our NYT Op Ed as Quote of the Day]
HABEAS corpus: it is, as Alexander Hamilton suggested, the “bulwark” of a Constitution. A habeas petition gives a single federal judge the authority to decide if a prisoner is being held unlawfully and order his release. At Guantánamo, habeas plays a crucial role: it provides the essential means by which the federal judiciary can ensure that innocent people are not mistakenly held, indefinitely, as enemy combatants. This is an example of habeas at its best.
But habeas is also subject to abuse. State prisoners convicted of non-capital offenses file more than 17,000 habeas corpus petitions in federal court each year. Each petition challenges the constitutionality of some aspect of the prisoner’s conviction or sentence, even though that conviction and sentence already have been affirmed by at least one state court, and sometimes several.
Only a tiny fraction of these habeas petitioners — estimated at less than four-tenths of one percent — obtain any kind of relief, which is usually a new trial, sentencing or appeal, after which they may be sent back to prison.
Each petition consumes the scarce resources of both the federal and state governments. Indeed, the never-ending stream of futile petitions suggests that habeas corpus is a wasteful nuisance. By almost any measure, the use, and abuse, of habeas by convicted state prisoners is a failure, one that could corrode one of the most revered pillars of our legal system.
We need a new approach — one that ensures a more prudent use of habeas in state criminal cases.
Read more: NYT Op Ed