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The criminal justice pendulum may be swinging back in the direction of fairness. The Innocence Protection Act of 2001, introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives earlier this year, promises meaningful reforms in the administration of capital punishment in the United States.

Unlike previous slabs at reform, the Innocence Protection Act (lPA) has a real chance to become law because it commands unusually broad bipartisan support. The Senate bill (S. 486) is sponsored by Democrat Pat Leahy of Vermont and Republican Gordon Smith of Oregon. The House bill (H.R. 912) is sponsored by Democrat Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts and Republican Ray LaHood of Illinois. As of March, the bill was co-sponsored by 15 Senators, 4 of them Republicans. and by an astounding 175 House members, 20 of them Republicans. Never before in recent history have so many members of Congress from both parties gone on record in support of strengthening procedural protections for capital defendants.

Nor is this just a round-up of the usual suspects. Both Leahy and Delahunt are former prosecutors, and the list of co-sponsors includes such relatively conservative members as Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Congressman Joe Scarborough of Florida and Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey. Can Senate and House Judiciary Committee Chairnen Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) be far behind?

This article describes how we arrived at this surprising political moment, summarizes the IPA, and analyzes the prospects for its enactment.


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