Appeals Deadline in ’96 Law Weighs on Death Penalty Cases


The Marshall Project explores the implications of a one-year appeals deadline that became law under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Since President Bill Clinton signed the one-year statute of limitations into law, enacting a tough-on-crime provision that emerged in the Republicans’ Contract with America, the deadline has been missed at least 80 times in capital cases. Sixteen of those inmates have since been executed.

By missing the filing deadline, those inmates have usually lost access to habeas corpus, arguably the most critical safeguard in the United States’ system of capital punishment. Habeas corpus allows prisoners to argue in federal court that the conviction or sentence they received in a state court violates federal law. The prisoners who missed their habeas deadlines have sometimes forfeited powerful claims about flawed evidence or the fairness of their sentences.

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