Limiting Death Row Appeals

Michael Wilkinson
03 February 1997
English 121

The Constitution of the United States outlines the rights of a person
accused of a crime. The individual has a right to a trial and to be judged by a
jury of his peers. When the result of a trial is a guilty verdict and the
individual is sentenced to death, the individual has a right to appeal the
verdict and the sentence. At the present time, there are virtually no limits on
the number of appeals the individual is entitled to and the process could take
years. Therefore, the process should be altered to limit the number of appeals
to one.
The Supreme Court of the United States re-instituted the death penalty
in 1976. Between that year and 1995, 314 inmates have been executed in the 37
states, districts, and providences of the United States that allow the death
penalty. There are more than 3100 inmates on death row. The majority of
executions are of white males. Most executions are by lethal injection or
electrocution. In the years since the Supreme Court re-instituted the death
penalty through 1994, there have been approximately 467,000 homicides in the
United States. Based on that number, 2.8 people will die every hour at the
hands of another person.
Death row inmates are often on death row for years, some upwards of
twenty years. This puts great financial strain on taxpayers' money. While in
prison, inmates have many privileges, including cable television, the chance to
pursue a college degree, and free health care, all at taxpayers' expense. There
are many law-abiding citizens who don't get these benefits. It is appalling to
think these people have a virtual life of leisure while in prison. There are
some death penalty opponents who believe that convicts don't get enough
privileges and lobby for better living conditions and the rights of the
convicted felons. Lost in this passionate pursuit of human rights are the
rights of the dead victim and those of that victim's family.
The appeal process is lengthy and time-consuming. The appeal process is
almost automatic for individuals sentenced to death. Many appeals are filed by
the convicts in hopes of overturning their conviction or to change their
sentence to life imprisonment. Although a great majority of these cases are
handled pro bono by lawyers ethically opposed to the death penalty, no
consideration is taken in respect to the cost to taxpayers for the local, state,
and federal government to respond to and process these appeals. A little known
fact about the appeals process is that many states have laws providing funds for
the legal defense and appeals for convicted felons. At these convicts' disposal
is up to $125 per hour for legal fees. Money that could be better spent
elsewhere is wasted on people that have been given due process and now must
answer for their crimes against society.
This proposal is both simple and efficient. Death row convictions are
entitled to one appeal. This appeal process would begin the day after the
individual is sentenced to death. The appeal should have some preferential
treatment in regard to its priority, but that is only to expedite the process to
be concluded within a year's time. A year from the date of sentencing either
the individual is put to death or his death sentence is overturned. Either way,
the matter is dealt within a more timely and efficient manner. This would
lessen the burden on taxpayers a great deal and unclog the legal channels by not
having it mired down by the limitless appeals for each inmate.
Expediting the execution process also gives the family of the victims
closure. To have the process drawn out does not allow the healing process to
begin for the loved ones of the victim. It keeps the pain fresh and life for
them is on hold until justice is served. It is a further insult to them to put
the rights of a murderer over the rights of the victim. The convict
demonstrated a lack of regard for human life by taking the life of another. The
basic premise of human intelligence is the ability to reason and make decisions.
This person made a conscious decision to take a life. Regret and remorse will
not change the outcome of those actions. This person does not deserve the life
of idle comfort typically afforded to convicts.
On 24 April 1996, President Clinton signed the Effective Death Penalty
and Anti-Terrorist Bill. The purpose of this bill is to deny legal elongations
by both the system and the convict. It limits the appeal time frame after the
state affirmed death sentence. The convict has one year to file an appeal and