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Professor Blume Testifies Before Congress

On December 8, 2009 Professor John Blume, Director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project at Cornell Law School, testified before the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee at a hearing on the impact of federal habeas corpus limitations on death penalty appeals. The Hearing was conducted by the House Judiciary's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.

According to Blume's testimony, "The writ of habeas corpus has a long and storied history in this country, but its significance and vitality has been significantly diminished in the last few decades... Representative Johnson's bill (HR 3986) is a laudable effort to address a significant problem facing the criminal justice system: the conviction and execution of those who are, or may well be, actually innocent of the offence for which they were convicted and sentenced to death."

Blume cited several cases to support his testimony, including the case of a man sentenced to death, where there was clear and shocking evidence of an unfair trial. The man's conviction did not receive federal review because his lawyers filed his habeas corpus petition one day late. "This is unconscionable and should not happen in a civilized society," Blume told the Committee.

"Given the importance of federal habeas corpus to our constitutional system, I would urge this Committee and the Congress to engage in meaningful habeas corpus reform and untie the hands of the federal courts to review meritorious claims of constitutional error," Blume concluded.

Other witnesses included: Stephen Hanlon, Chair of the ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Project Steering Committee and Partner at Holland and Knight LLP; The Hon. Gerald Kogan, Retired Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court; and Michael E. O'Hare, Supervisory Assistant State's Attorney, Office of the Chief State's Attorney, Connecticut.