December 18, 2018

Message from the Director

Dear Friends and Supporters:

After several years of deeply troubling developments that have threatened due process in capital cases, 2018 has been a year of remarkable progress. Despite significant ongoing challenges, including major changes to the composition of the courts, the Death Penalty Representation Project and its partners in the pro bono and capital defense communities have taken major steps toward the goal of ensuring effective representation for every person facing a death sentence.

Among this year’s successes were several victories at the U.S. Supreme Court, addressing far-reaching issues such as the availability of funding for capital habeas teams and the core requirements of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The October 2018 term of the Court promises to continue this active trend, with three capital cases already heard in the first two months. We have also made significant progress in the policy arena, including new state-based implementation of the ABA’s capital defense standards. On the national front, a committee of federal judges and other nationally renowned experts recently released its highly anticipated report about the administration of the Criminal Justice Act, recommending independence for the federal defender program—a critical change long called for by the Project and many others.

While we celebrate these victories for fairness and due process, we are also mindful of the challenges that remain. Certain states continue aggressive efforts to carry out death sentences, even where there is indisputable evidence of serious constitutional errors. A deeply divided Supreme Court continues to struggle with the question of whether certain methods of execution violate the Eighth Amendment, with some justices accusing their colleagues of forcing capital prisoners to make an impossible choice about how to die. This unsettled area of the law recently led to renewed use of the electric chair and has created deep ethical conflicts for defense counsel. And we know that, underlying it all, there are still thousands of people on death row who lack meaningful access to the courts because they are unable to afford a lawyer and have no constitutional guarantee of counsel.

We hope the stories contained in the pages that follow, about all these issues and much more, will inspire you to get involved with our work. If you are a lawyer and have been thinking about volunteering, please allow us the chance to show you how you can use the civil litigation skills you already have to make a difference. Lawyers and non-lawyers alike can also get involved by following us on social media, signing up for our newsletter, and helping us educate about the need for reform. And anyone can be a critical part of our work by making a financial contribution. Our continued success is dependent on the generosity of our donors, and every dollar you give goes directly to ensuring that each person facing the death penalty has a committed advocate by his side.

Please consider joining us and becoming an essential part of the fight to protect fairness and due process for the most vulnerable among us.

With thanks,

Emily Olson-Gault
Director, ABA Death Penalty Representation Project