Summary of Mumia's Current Situation
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.