April 27, 2018

Idaho Adopts New Capital Defense Standards Based on ABA Guidelines

Emily Olson-Gault, Director

On May 1, 2018, the state of Idaho formally adopted new capital defense standards that govern counsel qualifications and the members of the defense team in capital trial and post-conviction proceedings. These standards mirror the language and substance of the 2003 ABA Guidelines for the Appointment & Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases, which have been widely recognized as setting forth the basic requirements for the defense effort in capital cases.

In 2014, the Idaho legislature tasked the Idaho Public Defense Commission with promulgating and enforcing standards for defense representation. The prior standards, adopted in 2003 by the Idaho Supreme Court, closely resembled the 1989 ABA Guidelines, which were significantly revised and updated in 2003 to reflect current practice. In Spring 2017, the Public Defense Commission issued a rulemaking notice, and through much of the summer and fall of 2017, the Death Penalty Representation Project worked with the Commission and several Idaho capital defenders, judges, and defense system administrators to update the rules.

The Commission presented the new proposed rules to the Idaho legislature for approval in early 2018. With the close of the legislative session on May 1st, the new standards officially took effect. Among other things, the revised standards require that each capital defense team include at least two capital defenders, an investigator, and a mitigation specialist, with at least one member qualified to identify mental or psychological disorders. The new standards also require that appointed attorneys participate in training programs and demonstrate skills in a number of areas critical to capital defense. In addition to these appointment standards, the new rules also require appointed counsel to be familiar with and follow the performance standards articulated in the Guidelines.

With the addition of Idaho, 13 death penalty jurisdictions have now formally adopted—through legislation, administrative rule, or court order—rules that reflect the substance of the Guidelines. The Guidelines have also been favorably cited in hundreds of published court opinions throughout the United States and in virtually every state and federal jurisdiction that considers capital cases, including the U.S. Supreme Court. They have also been translated into several languages and have inspired other countries to develop similar sets of guidelines governing the defense effort in capital cases.

Related Resources:

Guidelines Implementation Fact Sheet

Guidelines Resource Page

Emily Olson-Gault, Director