Muhammad Case Went Quickly, As Death Penalty Appeals Go


With 68 months between his sentencing and execution, sniper John Allen Muhammad’s case took half the typical duration for death-penalty cases, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Nationally, it takes on average 153 months – almost 13 years – between sentencing and execution for death-row inmates, says the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said that, “by denying Muhammad’s stay application, we have allowed Virginia to truncate our deliberative process on a matter – involving a death row inmate – that demands the most careful attention.”

Death-penalty expert Michael Radelet, a professor at the University of Colorado, agrees that Muhammad’s case is “quicker than most cases.” The relative short nature of Muhammad’s case is typical of Virginia death-row cases. “The Virginia Supreme Court hears appeals very, very rapidly,” says David Bruck of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Va. “The case is through the first level of appeal typically within a year, whereas in other states it can take two to three years or even more.” Although Virginia is among the states that have executed the most prisoners since 1976, it has a relatively small death row, says Scott Sundby, also a Washington and Lee professor. That is because Virginia cases don’t bottleneck in the appeals process, as they might in states like California and Texas, which sentence inmates to death more frequently.

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