ACLU, others join in opposition to Strange proposal

The ACLU has joined with other groups in Alabama in opposition of the proposed "fair Justice Act." {}ACLU of Alabama, Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty in Alabama, the NAACP, and the Equal Justice Initiative were at a Joint House and Senate hearing on the act Tuesday. {} The act would accelerate the death penalty appeals process. {}The groups believe it will create greater room for serious judicial error.{}"Bill supporters claim that the current appeals process takes a long time. {}It is true. {}It does take a long time. {}But that time is absolutely necessary to ensure that mistakes aren't made and more innocent people aren't slaughtered," said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama.{}The ACLU says right now there are three steps in the current appeals process:A Direct Appeal which reviews only the written record.{}Rule 32 Appeal which reviews all facets of the trial including examining the quality of counsel, new evidence, and misconduct.{}A Federal Appeal which performs a final review. {}They believe the "Fair Justice Act" would "create a bifurcated appeals process by having the Direct Appeal and Rule 32 appeals processes performed concurrently."{}"This creates big margins for errors. For example, the bill calls for the appointment of counsel for both limbs of the appeal, but it doesn't specify if each is being handled by different counsel," said Susan Watson. "If a judge thinks one attorney can handle it all, it is likely that the defense will be inadequate."Strange says he understands there are those who do not support the death penalty."But it's the law in the state of Alabama," he says. "It's overwhelmingly supported by 85-90% of the citizens. If we're gonna have it on the books, it needs to be carried out in a way that protects everyone's rights, constitutional rights, right to appeals. We're not interfering with that.. just making it happen in a much narrower time frame than 30 or unlimited years."{}However, Watson says, "We are not against punishments for those who are guilty of heinous crimes. We are against innocent individuals being sentenced to death for crimes they do not commit. Accelerating the appeals process is not the answer."