Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996

From Academic Kids

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (also known as AEDPA) is a series of laws in the US signed into law[1] ( on April 24, 1996 to "deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, provide for an effective death penalty, and for other purposes." It was passed by a Republican-controlled legislature following the Oklahoma City bombing and signed into law by Democrat Bill Clinton.

It imposes a limit for all appeals relating to the right to writ of habeas corpus in capital cases and reduces the length of the appeal process by sharply limiting the role of the federal courts. Habeas corpus is the means by which inmates can test whether their convictions or sentences were obtained in violation of the United States Constitution.

Some provisions of the AEDPA merely condified judicially created procedural rules surrounding the availability of the writ, such as the requirement of exhaustion of claims in state court. One provision of the AEDPA, not previously applied by federal courts, prohibits federal judges from granting a petition for writ of habeas corpus unless unless the state court's adjudication of the claim resulted in a decision that was (1) contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding. This provision, and its subsequent interpretation by the federal courts, essentially allow convictions and sentences -- even death sentences -- to be upheld by federal courts even if they were concededly obtained in violation of the United States Constitution. With the AEDPA, not unless a state court resolves a claim "unreasonably" may a federal court intervene and protect the inmate's constitutional rights.

Also new, the AEDPA created a barrier for the filing of second or successive petitions in federal court. Prior judicially created law also limited the availability of the writ of habeas corpus after an initial petition was filed and resolved by a federal court, but the AEDPA imposed new requirements for having a second petition entertained on the merits, restricting successive petitions to persons who are either relying on rare watershed constitutional rules announced by the Supreme Court--such as the prohibition against the execution of the mentally retarded--or to persons who can demonstrate innocence, even when the claim being raised is one that could not have been discovered earlier with the exercise of due dilligence.

To patrol the new restrictions on the filing of successive habeas petitions, the AEDPA created a "gatekeeping" mechanism. Before filing a successive habeas application in a federal district court, the petitioner must first secure authorization from a federal court of appeals. Additionally, a court of appeals' denial of authorization is prohibited from being the subject of a certiorari petition to the Supreme Court, effectively placing final authority for the filing of second petitions in the hands of the federal courts of appeals.

The AEDPA's constitutionality was challenged after it went into effect. The basis of the challenge was that the provisions limiting the ability of persons to file successive habeas petitions violated Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the US Constitution, the Suspension Clause. The Supreme Court held unanimously in Felker v. Turpin ( that these limitations did not unconstitutionally suspend the writ.

External links

  • Text of the Act (

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