[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] is working to complete new guidelines limiting how federal courts can review state-issued death sentences, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday. The guidelines will implement a provision included in the 2006 renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act [PDF text; JURIST report], which gives the US attorney general the authority to review whether states are providing "adequate counsel" for defendants sentenced to death. The attorney general's determination will be reviewable by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website]. The new guidelines will limit the amount of time defendants have to file a federal appeal to six months after their conviction, and also impose strict limitations on how long federal judges can take to decide the appeals. District judges will have 450 days while appellate judges will have 120 days. The expedited review process requires state attorneys general to submit an application to the DOJ to be admitted into the program.
Supporters of the expedited review process say it will counter the delays allegedly imposed by "liberal" federal judges and allow states to execute convicted criminals. Critics say the new guidelines will interfere with judicial review and create an inherent conflict of interest by giving the attorney general, the nation's top prosecutor, the authority to review whether defendants' have received a fair trial. The Los Angeles Times has more.