A new study led by Vanderbilt University law professor Nancy King has revealed that fewer convictions have been overturned since the 1996 enactment of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). The 2-year study was the first to examine the effects of AEDPA. It examined 2,400 non-capital cases that were randomly selected from among the more than 36,000 habeas cases filed in federal district court nationwide by state prisoners during 2003 and 2004, as well as more than 360 death penalty cases filed in 13 federal districts between 2000 and 2002. King’s research showed that prior to the passage of AEDPA, federal courts granted a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner in about one of every 100 non-capital cases filed. After the new law’s enactment, that number was closer to one in every 300 cases. King noted, “More than one in every 5 of these cases was dismissed because the prisoner missed the new filing deadline.”

The study also revealed that prisoners on death row were more likely to receive relief that those who were not sentenced to death. King found that in capital cases that had reached conclusion in federal court by the study’s end, one of every eight death sentences had been invalidated. In addition, she discovered that after the implementation of AEDPA - a bill designed to speed up federal habeas review - habeas cases now take longer to finish. King said 1 of every 4 cases filed by death row inmates between 2000 and 2002 had not been resolved by the end of November 2006.

King’s research found that the most common reason for overturning a capital case was the failure of the state to provide the inmate with representation in state court that met constitutional standards. That finding has King questioning the value of pending regulations that would give the U.S. Attorney General the power to approve faster death penalty appeals in states meeting Justice Department criteria for providing adequate representation.

King co-authored the study with Fred Cheesman and Brian Ostrom of the National Center for State Courts. It was funded by Vanderbilt Law School and the National Institute of Justice, the research, development, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.
(Vanderbilt University, August 26, 2007). Read more about the report. See Representation and Resources.