"Death-penalty ruling goes against Justice Dept.," is by Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle.
In a nationwide ruling, a Bay Area federal judge has blocked the Justice Department from authorizing states to put their death penalty cases on a "fast track" once they reach federal court, with tight schedules for inmate appeals and judicial rulings.
A 2005 federal law, which has never taken effect, allowed the Justice Department to approve fast-track authority for any state that appointed competent, adequately paid lawyers to represent condemned prisoners. But Chief U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken said Wednesday that the Obama administration's rules that were supposed to implement the law failed to require states to show the lawyers they provided were competent.
A 1996 law that established the fast-track process gave federal judges, rather than the Justice Department, the power to decide whether a state had a system of competent legal representation for death row inmates. Judges have turned down every state that has applied for fast-track authority, including California in 2000.
Wilken's injunction, in a suit by defense lawyers in California and Arizona, leave the 1996 law in effect.
Prisoners whose convictions have been upheld in state court have the right to seek federal court review, which in capital cases can last anywhere from two years to a decade or more.
The fast-track process would give a condemned prisoner six months, instead of the current one-year deadline, to file a federal appeal after the final decision in a state court. A federal judge would then have 15 months to rule on the appeal, and a federal appeals court would have a four-month deadline after receiving all written arguments.
Earlier coverage of the fast track provision begins at the link.