Tuesday, October 25, 2005 Editorial Don't Limit Habeas Appeals Congress ought to kill a reckless proposal that would severely limit the right of appeal in criminal cases. The Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005 would gut habeas corpus, the hallowed protection that allows prisoners to challenge in federal court the legality of their convictions. Habeas corpus is often the last resort for death row inmates asserting their innocence. Separate versions of the bill are pending in the House and Senate. Each would impose new procedural hurdles that would effectively block many habeas appeals and thereby speed up executions. The legislation has met with loud protests from judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and conservative groups such as The American Conservative Union and The Rutherford Institute, which called the proposals "radical legislation" that "would likely result in the execution of citizens who have been wrongly convicted." Habeas corpus was considered so important to the nation's founders that they enshrined it in the Constitution. Congress cannot abridge that guarantee, but can skirt it by imposing rules that would essentially thwart prisoner appeals. There is no hard evidence that habeas appeals have clogged the federal courts or unduly dragged out final resolutions of cases. The Judicial Conference of the United States, which runs the federal courts, told Congress that before it clamps down on habeas corpus, it ought to first determine whether there are excessive delays and, if so, what causes them. That makes sense. Sponsored by Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Republican Rep. Daniel E. Lungren of Folsom, Calif., the Streamlined Procedures Act would make it tougher for convicts to assert their innocence - a proposal that ought to chill anyone who has followed the death penalty debate in recent years. Dozens of convicts have been released from death row after it was determined they did not commit the crimes that led to their convictions. Just last year Congress passed the Innocence Protection Act in an attempt to reduce wrongful convictions. To now cut off a convict's last appeal by denying habeas corpus would be a travesty.