Document Type


Publication Date





American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities




Newcomers to the capital punishment controversy may be puzzled by ubiquitous references to the common law writ of habeas corpus. What, you may ask, does the Great Writ have to do with the death penalty? The answer is: virtually everything. The lower federal courts have no ordinary appellate jurisdiction to review state criminal judgments for error. They adjudicate federal constitutional claims in death penalty cases primarily by entertaining habeas corpus petitions from death row prisoners. But for federal habeas corpus, capital sentences imposed for state criminal offenses would be examined only in state court and, occasionally, in the Supreme Court (which does, of course, have appellate jurisdiction to review state judgments for federal error).

Included in

Law Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.