Mumia's new Legal Situation (fwd)

KDean75206 at KDean75206 at
Mon Oct 18 19:47:49 MDT 1999

Date: Thu, 14 Oct 1999 14:40:24 -0700
From: Prison Radio <radioqc at>

Mumia’s Situation Following the new Death Warrant and new Filing in the
Federal Court

by C. Clark Kissinger

What follows is a short summary of Mumia’s current legal situation for
activists and speakers working for Mumia. It explains why there must be
a major focus at this time on demanding that the federal district court
in Philadelphia grant a hearing on Mumia’s new petition.

Is Mumia going to be executed on December 2?

No, but his life is in great danger. With the filing on October 15 of a
petition in the federal district court for a new trial for Mumia, the
federal judge is expected to soon grant a stay of execution. A stay, of
course, is only a postponement to allow the federal judge to consider
the new petition. Mumia remains under order of death, and the stay will
be lifted after the federal district court finishes considering the

Governor Ridge signed this death warrant knowing full well that Mumia
would be filing for a new trial in a matter of days, and the death
warrant would be stayed. This is the same thing he did in 1995 when he
signed a death warrant just before Mumia filed a petition for a new
trial in the state courts. It is a political step designed to mislead
people and pressure the courts.

What is the significance of Mumia’s new petition?

This is a most critical moment in the whole appeals process. A federal
district judge in Philadelphia is being asked to hold a hearing on
Mumia’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

A motion for habeas corpus (Latin for "let's have the body") comes from
English common law, where it was an appeal to a court to review whether
the King's detention of somebody was legal. In granting the motion, the
court told the King's sheriff to "bring the body" into court and justify
why you are holding him. This practice developed into a procedure in the
U.S. by which federal courts are asked to review criminal convictions by
state courts. What it means in practice is that state governments do not
have an absolute right to take away a person's freedom or life.

So why would a hearing be so important?

Up to this point, all hearings have been in the Pennsylvania state court
system and presided over by Judge Sabo. Sabo routinely denied motions
for discovery and denied subpoenas for key witnesses sought by the
defense. Sabo’s actions were then approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme,
most of whose justices are endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

Thus a hearing in federal district court be Mumia FIRST real opportunity
to have the evidence heard and reviewed. It will also be Mumia’s LAST
opportunity to present the evidence and witnesses denied by the
Pennsylvania court system. After the federal district court, all higher
federal appeals courts will only review transcripts -- they will not
hear any new evidence.

What is the effect of the new federal laws on death penalty appeals?

The danger is this: the federal district judge who gets this case is not
required to grant Mumia a hearing. He could simply read the Pennsylvania
trial transcripts and issue a ruling. In fact, the 1996 Effective Death
Penalty Act (EDPA) 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 is so important. The
government has to hear a loud popular demand for a hearing, so the
evidence can be heard that would justify a new trial for Mumia.

What the Effective Death Penalty Act attempts to do is to repeal the
federal right of habeas corpus. Under the signboard of “federalism,”
both this new law and recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court are
attempting to make decisions by state courts final, and far less subject
to federal review. “Federalism” is just a new name for the old doctrine
of “states rights” that attempted to prevent any federal review of white
supremacist courts in the South. Such federal review was a major gain of
the Civil Rights Movement, which the government is now seeking to
reverse. This has to be called out and exposed.

What is the effect of the Supreme Court turning down Mumia’s appeal on
October 4?

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 normal habeas
corpus process. Sometimes the Supreme Court will do this, when an
important legal question is presented. In Mumia’s case, the Supreme
Court was 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. In denying this petition, the Supreme
Court was saying that it would not consider these issues now -- the case
will have to go through the federal district court and the circuit court
of appeals first. The U.S. Supreme Court did NOT rule against Mumia on
merit of the issues he raised.

What happens if the federal district judge denies Mumia a new trial
(denies habeas corpus)?

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.

re-sent by Prison Radio

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