St. Mary's Law Journal


The concept of “victims’ rights” refers to the movement from the 1950s which focuses on enhancing the role of the victim in the criminal process. The movement changed dramatically the manner in which capital cases are investigated and prosecuted. Prosecutors may work with the victims’ families on whether to accept a plea bargain or whether to seek the death penalty. The victims’ families may now also provide victim impact statements to let their own suffering influence the jury during the sentencing phase. The right of the victim’s family to have a say in the process does not end with the death sentence. While the victims’ rights movement would affect the ability of the victim’s family to assume the role of stakeholder in the death process, its greatest and most long-lasting influence may be on the legislative front. The necessary delay associated with habeas appeals is alleged to have offended two of the goals of capital punishment: swift retribution and deterrence. With the enactment of the 1996 Death Penalty Act, the federal government streamlined the federal habeas process. Filing deadlines for federal habeas petitions were imposed, and the number of petitions is now limited. Furthermore, the review afforded the petition is now limited. Shortly before the 1996 Death Penalty Act went into effect, the State of Texas through Article 11.071 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure enacted broad sweeping measures aimed at shortening the state’s habeas process. This concurrent running of appeals will likely eliminate at least a few years from the view process for each case. The system by which the State puts someone to death should not be based on ease. Neither should the system be based on emotion. The work on habeas counsel is based on rules grounded on constitutional rights.


St. Mary's University School of Law