NEW RESOURCES: Criminal Justice Coalition Releases "Smart on Crime" Report

A diverse coalition of the nation’s leading criminal justice reform organizations recently released Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Administration and Congress. This analysis of the criminal justice system and the accompanying set of recommendations for change is one of the most comprehensive reports ever published addressing the problems in this field. The Coalition of over 40 organizations is coordinated by the Constitution Project and includes such groups as the American Bar Association, the Innocence Project, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Heritage Foundation, and Prison Fellowship, though not every organization supported every chapter of the report. With respect to the death penalty, the report made a series of recommendations: See below:

Recommendation: Reform habeas corpus to address damage caused by AEDPA
[Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996]. Congress should
amend the federal habeas statute to address the damage AEDPA has wrought in federal habeas
corpus over the past fifteen years. Congress should revise the statute of limitations, exhaustion
requirements, and procedural default standards, as well as eliminate federal court deference to
state court interpretations of constitutional and federal law and restrictions on successive habeas
petitions.

Recommendation: Creating safeguards against racially biased capital prosecutions. Congress
should seek to address the disproportionate application of the federal death penalty to defendants
of color. Congress should commission an independent study of the federal death penalty system to
examine racial disparities, prejudicial errors, adequacy of counsel, and other inequities in capital
prosecutions, and make recommendations for legislative reform. The Department of Justice should
also revise its policies and regulations to ensure greater consistency and fairness in the application
of the federal death penalty.

Recommendation: Protecting the mentally ill from execution. Congress should exempt people with
severe mental illness and/or developmental disabilities from capital prosecution. Even without
legislative action, the Department of Justice should adopt a policy that exempts people with severe
mental illness and/or developmental disabilities from capital prosecutions.

Recommendation: Provide adequate counsel in capital prosecutions. Congress should increase
federal defender independence from the federal judiciary. Giving the judiciary control over defense
functions creates a conflict of interest. Federal defenders would be able to operate more
effectively and efficiently if the judiciary no longer appointed counsel or approved budgets for
experts and other resources at any stage of a federal death penalty case, including post-conviction
review.

(Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Administration and Congress, The Constitution Project, Feb. 10, 2011). See Studies.