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December 01, 2008

Project Overview

Our Mission

Our mission at the Death Penalty Representation Project is to ensure that all persons facing a possible death sentence have the assistance of competent, effective lawyers at every state of the proceedings against them. The American Bar Association believes that good lawyers are essential to justice, especially in death penalty cases. Over the years our volunteers have contributed their skills, time, and substantial resources to work with us toward solutions. Twenty two years ago, the Project was created to address an emerging crisis of counsel. Since that time we have engaged more than one thousand volunteer lawyers to donate in excess of one million hours of pro bono time to assist the men and women on our nation's Death Rows. Today, we receive requests for our help from nearly every death penalty jurisdiction in the country. With your help and support, we will continue to make a difference in the lives of indigent capital defendants and Death Row prisoners in the following ways:

  • by recruiting, training, and supporting volunteer lawyers for the hundreds of Death Row prisoners across the United States without counsel;
  • by working with defenders, prosecutors, judges, and legislators to facilitate improvements to the counsel systems that fail so many poor people;
  • by aggressively pursuing reform with systemic litigation when other reform efforts do not succeed;
  • by promulgating guidelines for the defense of death penalty cases that are now widely acknowledged by courts and defenders as the national standard of practice; and
  • by educating the public, bar, and judiciary about the problems with the death penalty and the urgent need for meaningful reform.

Our Cause

More than 3,300 people await execution in our nation's prisons. Hundreds of those prisoners face execution without a lawyer to ensure that they receive a fair trial. Without a lawyer, these indigent defendants have no realistic chance of challenging their convictions and death sentences, even though obvious and profound errors may have occurred during trial. This is why the Death Penalty Representation Project exists. More and more errors come to light each day. In recent years, 130 people under sentence of death have been released from Death Row with evidence of innocence. Hundreds of other sentences have been overturned because of serious constitutional errors at trial. These cases highlight an irrefutable fact: the system by which the death penalty is administered in this country is literally, fatally flawed.