Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA)

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Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) was passed by the 107th Congress “to deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, provide for an effective death penalty, and for other purposes.” To accomplish this goal, some of the AEDPA provisions include increasing penalties for crimes involving explosives or terrorism, providing restitution for victims of terrorism, and setting new legal procedures for capital cases.

The most notable changes enacted by the AEDPA were made to the law of habeas corpus. The AEDPA’s habeas reform provisions, codified in 28 U.S.C. § 2254, included a statute of limitations for habeas corpus claims and restrictions on a habeas petitioner’s ability to file a second habeas petition. Section 2254(d) narrowed the grounds on which successful habeas claims can be made by allowing claims only to succeed when the court decisions (1) “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States”; or (2) “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.”

For Example:

In Felker v. Turpin (1996), the Supreme Court held that “the added restrictions which the [AEDPA] places on second habeas corpus petitions . . . do not amount to a ‘suspension’ of the writ contrary to Article 1, §9.” 

In Shoop v. Twyford (2022), the Supreme Court held that “a federal court’s power to grant habeas relief is restricted under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA)  which provides that the writ may issue ‘only on the ground that [the prisoner] is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.’” The Supreme Court further held that “the question under AEDPA is thus not whether a federal court believes the state court’s determination was incorrect, but whether that determination was unreasonable — ‘a substantially higher threshold’ for a prisoner to meet.” 

For Additional Reading:

AEDPA: The Hype and the Bite, written by John H. Blume, and published in Volume 91 of Cornell Law Review, provides historical background and analyzes the AEDPA’s impact.

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]