December 01, 2010

Project Overview

Approximately 3,300 people await execution in our nation’s prisons. Shockingly, hundreds of those prisoners face execution without lawyers to ensure that they received a fair trial.  Without lawyers, these indigent defendants have no realistic chance of challenging their convictions and death sentences, even though obvious and serious errors may have occurred during trial.

The Death Penalty Representation Project works to correct injustice.

In recent years, 139 people under sentence of death have been released from Death Row with evidence of innocence.  Hundreds of other death sentences have been overturned because of serious constitutional errors at trial.

Our Mission

At the Death Penalty Representation Project we believe that all persons facing a possible death sentence should have the assistance of competent, effective lawyers at every stage of the proceedings against them.  Good lawyers are essential to justice, especially in death penalty cases.  Over the past 24 years, thousands of our volunteers have contributed their skills, time, and substantial resources to this cause and saved the lives of countless men and women.

Today we receive requests for 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 who are without counsel;

· By working with defenders, prosecutors, judges, and legislators to facilitate improvements to the counsel systems that fail so many people living in poverty;

· 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;

· By collecting and providing resources to capital defenders and volunteer counsel; and

· By educating the public, judiciary, and bar about the problems with the death penalty and the urgent need for meaningful reform.

We partner with state and federal judges to recruit volunteers.

In cities around the country, we hold informational meetings about how local law firms can participate in our work.  Civil lawyers learn about the need for their assistance, how they can be successful despite having no death penalty or criminal law experience, and how rewarding the work can be.  Upcoming meetings are listed at:

We work toward reform.

Improving the counsel systems that failed the men and women on our Death Rows is as important as finding competent lawyers. We work with judges, legislators, bar associations, and lawyers in death penalty jurisdictions to champion meaningful reforms that  will ensure that all Death Row prisoners have the assistance of effective, well-trained, adequately resourced lawyers.  We support legislation and court rules that will eliminate caps on compensation and enforce meaningful qualification standards.  The Project provides decision-makers with important information to explain why competent a defense function will reduce the errors that lead to wrongful convictions.  Our investment in reforming defense counsel systems is another way we work to ensure justice for all.

We provide technical assistance and resources for defense counsel.

The Project promises each recruited law firm the assistance of an experienced capital litigator for strategic assistance and local support. We also manage a confidential online practice area which includes a list of FAQs, case law analysis, topical research, and training announcements.  In addition, we provide resources for volunteer lawyers and members of the defender community for national and local training and educational programs that focus on improvement of capital defense.

Systemic Litigation

The Project works with pro bono counsel across the country to address systemic problems with state counsel systems. The Project coordinates systemic litigation to challenge a variety of problems in selected jurisdictions, including:

· the method for selecting, appointing, and monitoring the performance of defense counsel;

· compensation for counsel, experts, and mitigation specialists;

· restrictions on the funding for and selection of experts and mitigation specialists; and

· the structure, workload, and operation of capital defender offices.

This initiative is a response to the suggestion of many of our volunteer lawyers that the Project should pursue additional approaches to reform the underlying causes of ineffective representation.  Our goal is to ensure that every jurisdiction with the death penalty adopts statutes, rules, and procedures that are consistent with the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases.  Generous funding from the ABA Section of Litigation makes this systemic litigation possible.