Post conviction streamlining bill advances

Prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers negotiated an agreement on how to streamline post-conviction appeals allowing a Louisiana House panel to advance the legislation with little discussion Wednesday.

After a trial conviction has been affirmed by the appellate courts, convicted criminals are allowed two years to file a “post conviction” application raising claims that their constitutional rights were infringed or that there were problems with the trial that led to an improper result. Most post-conviction appeals usually revolve around claims that the prosecutor hid evidence or that the defense lawyer was ineffective.

House Bill 385 initially wanted to shorten the time period for filing a post-conviction appeal from two years to one year, and require that judges throw out petitions that are repetitive.

The post conviction appeals often take far longer to resolve than the “direct” appeals of the trial court’s action, said Dale Lee, the assistant district attorney in East Baton Rouge Parish spearheading the effort.

George Steimel, representing the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said HB385, as originally written, would have stripped the legal processes to the point that most post conviction appeals would have been disallowed.

Almost half of the inmates convicted on state crimes are incarcerated in parish jails, which often don’t have jailhouse legal help that is available in state facilities, Steimel said. What happens is that the inmate, usually without a legal background, files the petition on his own and fails to focus on appropriate issues, he said.

Additionally, many inmates don’t have the funds to pay for the necessary research, he said.

Lee said, “We had a lot of opposition on the committee.”

The defense lawyers and the prosecutors negotiated and agreed to back off on shortening the timeline, both Steimel and Lee said. The bill also made changes to better define “due diligence” for post conviction petitions.

“The goal of this bill is really justice,” state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, said after the amendments were accepted by the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice.

Committee Chairman Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie, noted that last week the bill was controversial and this week everyone agreed.

HB385 was reported favorably without objection for consideration by the full House.