News Release ~ 04/17/1996

Passage of 'Antiterrorism' Bill Will Mark 'Tragic Triumph of Politics'

Tossing 200-year-old liberty into 'dustbin of history'

Washington, DC (April 17, 1996) -- "It will be a sad memorial to the 169 Oklahoma City bombing victims if Congress tosses into the dust-bin of history one of the most precious of Americans' constitutional liberties," declared Robert Fogelnest, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), today.

Fogelnest was reacting to news that Congress is poised to pass the so-called 'antiterrorism' bill that includes unrelated provisions drastically reducing the rights of all Americans to seek federal court review of unconstitutional state criminal convictions.

"It is unbelievable to me that a responsible Senate leader would perpetuate the notion that gutting habeas corpus is somehow necessary in order to achieve justice for those victims and their families," Fogelnest said. "And it is terribly disingenuous to announce that gutting habeas corpus 'is the heart and soul of this bill.' Habeas has nothing whatsoever to do with preventing terrorism and was only attached to this bill through a cynical political ploy," he added.

"Americans have been misled into believing that habeas applies only to death penalty cases. In fact, it applies to anyone convicted in a state court -- antiabortion protestors, tax protestors, business people convicted of white collar violations . . . everyone. Less than one percent of habeas petitions are filed by death row inmates," he explained.

The bill will affect death penalty cases, Fogelnest noted. "Innocent people will die as a result of this law," he said, "and their number will be added to the list of innocent victims of the Oklahoma City bombing."

"Depriving Americans of their 200-year old right to habeas corpus is a fitting memorial only to the tragic triumph of politics over substance as our Republic enters its third century," he concluded.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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