News Release ~ 06/07/1999

Supreme Court Opts for Empty Ritual: Prisoners Must Petition State Supreme Courts

Washington, DC (June 7, 1999) --

‘Justice Suffers Another Setback’

The U.S. Supreme Court today held that before state prisoners can seek federal habeas corpus relief, they must first petition the state supreme courts for discretionary review, even in states, like Illinois, which leave such matters to the state’s intermediate appellate court. O’Sullivan v. Boerckel, 97-2048. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) filed a friend of the court brief supporting the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling to the contrary.

NACDL President Larry Pozner issued the following statement from his office in Denver today:

“The Court today has made it easier to let innocent people rot in jail. We should be assisting rather than impeding the review of convictions which may be unconstitutional. This includes the many convictions of actually innocent persons. Instead, the Court has tacked on red tape and needless paperwork.

“The Supreme Court continues to tinker with citizens’ rights. After making it easier and quicker to convict and imprison, the Court now makes review of constitutional errors more difficult and time-consuming. What kind of a nation puts a greater premium on paperwork than liberty itself?

“As our Amicus Brief points out, state prisoners should not be put to the empty ritual of state supreme court review where those courts, including the Illinois Supreme Court, clearly defer to the intermediate appellate court. The quest for justice in America has suffered another setback.”

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 9,000 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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