Summary of Mumia’s Current Situation


C. Clark Kissenger

Because

many people have requested an explanation of Mumia’s legal situation, let me

explain concisely why Mumia’s case is at a critical point as we go into the

September Mumia Awareness Week.

All

appeals by Mumia Abu-Jamal in the Pennsylvania court system have been denied,

and he is about to begin his appeals in the federal courts. Under the

restrictive terms of the Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Mumia must file

his petition for a writ of habeas corpus before the end of October, 1999.

"Habeas corpus" is simply the technical legal term for asking the

federal courts to review whether Mumia has been sentenced legally by the state

courts.

This

is a most critical moment in the whole appeals process. At the beginning of

October, a federal district judge in Philadelphia will be asked to hold a

hearing on Mumia’s petition. If he agrees, this hearing will be Mumia’s LAST

opportunity to present the evidence and witnesses denied by the Pennsylvania

court system. After the federal district court, higher appeals courts will only

review tran-scripts — they will not hear new evidence.

The

federal judge who gets this case is not required to grant a hearing. He could

simply read the trial transcripts and issue a ruling. In fact, the 1996 federal

law is specifically designed to discourage federal courts from reviewing and

overturning death sentences handed down in the state courts. This is why public

action for Mumia in September is so important — the government has to hear a

loud popular demand for a new trial for Mumia.

Although

the state court action is finished, the governor of Pennsylvania has not yet

signed a new death warrant. If he does sign a death warrant, the federal

district court will issue a stay, preventing an execution (until the federal

district court rules). But until the federal court issues a stay, Mumia would be

put under the horrible new conditions of a "death watch."

Earlier

this year, Mumia’s legal team also petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a

"writ of certiorari." This is a request to the Supreme Court to look

at the case before it works its way up through the nor-mal federal appeals

process. Sometimes the Supreme Court will do this, when an important legal

question is presented. In Mumia’s case, the Supreme Court is being asked to

consider whether it was constitutional to deny him the right to act as his own

attorney and to bar him from the court room when he protested this denial. Most

petitions for "cert" are denied by the Supreme Court. The court

prefers to allow cases to work their way up through the normal appeals process.

If

the judge at the federal district court level rules against him, Mumia will then

appeal to the federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. But if the judge rules in

favor of Mumia, the state of Pennsylvania is sure to appeal to the 3rd Circuit

Court. So there will be two rounds of federal court action in Philadelphia over

the next year (the district court and the circuit court of appeals).

In

general, action in the federal courts will go much faster than it did in the

state courts. Thus we are now entering the final phase of the battle to save

Mumia’s life. This is why we must proceed with a greater sense of urgency and

determination.

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