Recently, Representative Henry Johnson (D- Ga.) introduced House Bill 3986, the Effective Death Penalty Appeals Act.  This proposed law would make sure that defendants who have been sentenced to death at trial have the chance to have those death sentences reviewed as federal habeas corpus relief when they are able to provide evidence that they are not guilty of the crime — especially when that evidence was not presented at their trial.  The summary written by the Congressional Research Service (a nonpartisan part of the Library of Congress) provides:

Effective Death Penalty Appeals Act – Amends the federal judicial code to make federal habeas corpus relief available to a person sentenced to death if adjudication on the merits in state court proceedings of the claim cited in the writ application resulted in, or left in force, a death sentence imposed without consideration of newly discovered evidence which, in combination with the evidence presented at trial, demonstrates that the applicant is probably not guilty of the underlying offense. Allows presentation of such a claim in a second or successive habeas corpus application. Allows a second or successive court motion to vacate, set aside, or correct a death sentence based on such a claim.

Many may assume that this type of federal judicial review already exists for those individuals facing a sentence of death. After all, isn’t the cost of appellate review one of the big chunks of Capital Punishment expense that is being used as an monetary argument to abolish the death penalty? Right now, federal courts are limited in their ability to review state court decisions in Death Cases —  Troy Davis is one big example While death penalty appeals are expensive in both time and money, the fact is that the innocent men and women on Death Row — and they’re there, don’t think they’re not — may not have as easy of a time taking evidence proving their innocence before a tribunal in order to gain their freedom as the public might assume.
Continue Reading House Bill 3986 – The Proposed Death Penalty Appeals Act and the Need to Include Adequate Funding for Indigent Defense Counsel