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The Honorable John Cornyn
United States Senator
U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for scheduling today's hearing and for continuing to examine an issue of such great importance to our criminal justice system.
I come to this debate with the belief that, (as some have said) appeals of criminal cases should not take 8 or 9 years and 3 trips to the Supreme Court to finalize whether a person was properly convicted or not. Unnecessary, extended delays repeatedly harm victims and their families -- and these delays should not be tolerated.
The Judicial Conference of the United States (and others) has been very involved in this debate, as well they should be. I appreciate the letter the Judicial Conference sent to the Chairman expressing their opposition. I want to make a few important points about the information presented in this letter.
First, the Judicial Conference notes that not only are the number of pending federal capital habeas corpus petitions growing - but that it is also taking longer to dispose of these petitions. For instance, they note that state capital habeas corpus cases that have been pending for more than three years has doubled -- from 20.2 percent in 1998, to 46.2 percent at the end of 2004. Similarly, they note that the median time from filing to disposition of these petitions nearly doubled over the same time period -- from 13 months in 1998 to 25.3 months in 2004.
Additionally, their statistics show that, beginning in 2001, the number of state capital habeas corpus cases terminated in the courts of appeals was lower than the number filed. This, of course, resulted in an increase in the number of pending capital cases. From the end of 1998 to the end of 2004, these cases increased from 185 to 284.
And finally, this letter reveals that state capital habeas corpus appeals that were pending in the courts of appeals for three years or more increased from 5 ( or 2.7 percent of all pending state capital habeas cases) at the end of 1998 to 36 (or 12.7 percent of all pending state capital habeas corpus cases) at the end of 2004.
These statistics clearly reflect a distinct trend of increasing delays associated with the resolution of federal capital habeas corpus claims. Addressing these delays is within the purview of Congress and also within this Committee's jurisdiction. Chairman Specter has not avoided this responsibility -- he has instead demonstrated his determination to move forward. I appreciate his leadership on this important issue.