The U.S. Supreme Court struck a belated but still welcome blow Tuesday for more expeditious justice in cases involving the death penalty.
The high court did so in a 6-3 decision that should limit the number of appeals in such cases. In essence, the decision outlines new standards that require a prisoner to show why his appeal was not made previously and to prove that it involved a miscarriage of justice.The new verdict is in line with a proposal in Congress to set limits on the previously lax system of appeals that let killers avoid execution for a decade or more after their original conviction.
Because the death penalty is so extreme and so grisly, every convicted killer ought to be allowed to appeal all the way to this nation's top court.
The problem, though, arises from excessively repeated appeals whose objective is clearly not justice but delay - dragging on so long that the original crime becomes a dusty memory.
In at least one case, a convicted killer was executed only after his appeals went before four different levels of courts on 21 separate occasions, including five trips to a state supreme court and five more to the U.S. Supreme Court.
At one point, there were a total of some 11,000 federal court appeals in death penalty cases. As a result, the average time in some states between the commission of a murder and the execution of the killer has been 13 years.
With this week's ruling, the Supreme Court has simply come to the obvious conclusion that justice delayed as long as it usually is in capital punishment cases is justice denied. It's a decision that the high court should have handed down long ago.