chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

New Crisis in Representation

Giving Tuesday Call to Action

Calling all civil litigators!

Did you know that prisoners on death row have no constitutional right to an attorney? Or that that your existing civil litigation skills are all that is needed to provide-life saving assistance to a prisoner in need?

On Giving Tuesday, November 30th, pledge to give an hour of your time to join the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project for this virtual call to action event and learn how you can make a difference. You will hear from capital defenders in Tennessee, Texas, and Alabama who will share how a renewed crisis of counsel is developing as several states seek to curtail the judicial process and carry out executions at a frenzied pace. No prior criminal or habeas experience is necessary, and your attendance creates no obligation to take a case.

You have the power right now to provide access to justice for the most vulnerable among us. Join us to learn how!

Details & Registration

Date: November 30, 2021
Time: 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. EST
Format: Zoom webinar (audience will not be on video but will have the chance to ask questions of the live speakers and view Q&A from other attendees)

Please complete the short form to register for this program. There is no cost to attend, but registration is required. A link to access the program will be provided by email after registration is confirmed.

Registration for this program is limited to attorneys, pro bono professionals. and law students who are considering providing pro bono assistance in capital cases, or who are currently engaged in capital defense representation or indigent defense. By registering to attend, you affirm that you fall into one of these categories or otherwise have been invited to attend by the Death Penalty Representation Project or one of the program panelists. If you have questions, please contact the Project.


Kelley J. Henry

Chief, Capital Habeas Unit, Federal Public Defender for the Middle District of Tennessee

Kelley began her career in capital defense in Missouri and Arizona before joining the Tennessee Federal Public Defender’s Office in 2000. She was selected to lead the office’s capital habeas unit in 2009. She led a team of attorneys that represented Lisa Montgomery, the first woman to be executed by the federal government in the modern death penalty era. Kelley was the 2019 recipient of the Project’s John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award.

Robin M. Maher

Resource Counsel, Texas Capital Habeas Assistance and Training Project

Robin's experience includes representation of state and federally death-sentenced prisoners; training of judges and defense lawyers; legal reform efforts and systemic litigation to secure necessary resources for the defense function; expert witness testimony; and recruitment of pro bono lawyers from civil law firms. For 13 years she was the Director of the American Bar Association (ABA) Death Penalty Representation Project where she led the effort the resulted in the 2003 ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases, now the national standard of care. She is a frequent author and speaker on the death penalty, the ethical and professional responsibilities of defense counsel, and the importance of ensuring high-quality legal representation for all those facing a possible death sentence.

Angie Setzer

Senior Attorney, Equal Justice Initiative

Angie interned with EJI in the fall of 1998 and joined the staff after graduating from the University of Michigan Law School in 1999. She currently manages some of EJI’s training programs and has challenged capital convictions and death sentences across Alabama.


Frequently Asked Questions About Volunteering

Aren't all prisoners guaranteed the appointment of counsel by the Sixth Amendment? Why is pro bono help needed?

The U.S. Supreme Court has never recognized a constitutional right to counsel for indigent death row prisoners seeking post-conviction relief in state or federal court. Even when states choose to provide counsel under state law, there is almost never an enforceable right to effective or qualified counsel, with most states explicitly prohibiting any relief based on post-conviction counsel's ineffectiveness. 

Even states that have excellent statewide post-conviction defender offices or where nonprofit organizations regularly provide assistance, there is a persistent lack of resources. 

Why is there a crisis right now? 

For the past several years, many executions have been placed on hold due to a number of independent factors, including the COVID pandemic and lethal injection litigation, freeing up indigent defense resources to focus on post-conviction proceedings. We are suddenly seeing all those stays lifted and states are setting numerous cases for execution at a rapid pace, overwhleming the already taxed indigent defense resources and creating a real risk that death row prisoners will be denied meaningful access to the courts.

I'm a civil litigator that hasn't thought about criminal law since I was a 1L. How can I help?

There is no need to have a background in criminal law to assist! Post-conviction proceedings are civil in nature and follow the rules of civil procedure. You can use your existing civil litigation skills to provide outstanding representation to a death-sentenced prisoner seeking to challenge his or her conviction and sentence.