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Virginia Rushed through John Allen Muhammad’s Execution, and the Supreme Court Allowed it

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Death penalty: Always unjust

Virginia executed John Allen Muhammad before he was to have completed his first round of federal habeas corpus appeals. Concurring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens — joined by Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor — underlined the importance of completing the first round of federal habeas corpus appeals before permitting executions:

“This case highlights once again the perversity of executing inmates before their appeals process has been fully concluded. Under our normal practice, Muhammad’s timely petition for certiorari would have been reviewed at our Conference on November 24, 2009. Virginia has scheduled his execution for November 10, however, so we must resolve the petition on an expedited basis unless we grant a temporary stay. By denying Muhammad’s stay application, we have allowed Virginia to truncate our deliberative process on a matter–involving a death row inmate–that demands the most careful attention. This result is particularly unfortunate in light of the limited time Muhammad was given to make his case in the District Court.

“I continue to believe that the Court would be wise to adopt a practice of staying all executions scheduled in advance of the completion of our review of a capital defendant’s first application for a federal writ of habeas corpus. See, e.g., Emmett v. Kelly, 552 U. S. 942 (2007) (STEVENS, J., joined by GINSBURG, J., respecting denial of certiorari); Beard v. Greene, 523 U. S. 371, 379 (1998) (STEVENS, J., dissenting). Such a practice would give meaningful effect to the distinction Congress has drawn between first and successive habeas petitions. See 28 U. S. C. §2244(b). It would also serve the interests of avoiding irreversible error, facilitating the efficient management of our docket, and preserving basic fairness by ensuring death row inmates receive the same procedural safeguards that ordinary inmates receive.”

Muhammad v. Kelly, 558 U.S. _____ (Nov. 9, 2009) (Stevens, J., Statement).