Journal of Law and Policy


Alexander Brock


For centuries, the writ of habeas corpus has allowed imprisoned men and women to challenge the validity of their detention as the final source of relief from criminal sentences. For those convicted of the death penalty, it is the last resource standing between life and death. Despite its monumental significance in America’s legal history, the “Great Writ” was dealt a devastating blow with the introduction of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) of 1996. Designed to expedite the legal processes from sentencing to execution, AEDPA drastically limited the avenues of relief sought by habeas petitioners. Yet, the law included several further provisions that may allow qualifying states to “opt-in” to an even stricter set of limitations. The provisions would force petitioners to file habeas applications within untenable timeframes and practically strip federal courts of the ability to reverse convictions. If granted, petitioners in such states would face nearnegligible odds of survival upon reaching federal habeas review. The result may realize the death of the “Great Writ” as we know it. This Note will challenge the validity of the “opt-in” provisions and propose several remedies to ensure the suffocating results of the provisions never reach the petitions of those seeking relief from death row.