A federal appeals court on Wednesday restored the Justice Department’s authority to let states put death penalty cases on a “fast track” once they reach federal court, overturning a Bay Area judge’s nationwide ruling.
A 2005 federal law, which has yet to take effect, authorized the Justice Department to approve fast-track authority for any state that appoints competent, adequately paid lawyers to represent condemned prisoners. Once an inmate’s death sentence is upheld in state court, a fast track would shorten the deadline for filing a federal appeal from a year to six months. A federal judge would then have 15 months to rule on the appeal, and a federal appeals court would have a four-month deadline after receiving all written arguments.
Life-tenured federal judges have been more likely to overturn state capital cases than state judges, who are elected in most states. The fast-track process is intended to substantially shorten federal court review of state capital cases, which sometimes takes a decade or more.
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