On September 7, 2018, the Judiciary Committee for the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature heard testimony regarding LR406, an interim study to examine statutory adoption of the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment & Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases in Nebraska. Project Director Emily Olson-Gault submitted written testimony and also appeared before the Committee to answer questions from the Committee members. Other witnesses included UMKC Law School Professor Sean O’Brien, Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy chief counsel Jeff Pickens, and the bill’s sponsor, Senator Adam Morfeld.
Nebraska’s Republican-held legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto to abolish the death penalty in 2015, only to have it reinstated after a 2016 voter referendum that has since been the subject of numerous legal challenges. The Committee acknowledged that Nebraska voters have chosen the death penalty but said that it must be administered fairly. The Committee appeared particularly concerned that Nebraska currently has no capital defense standards in place. Senator Morfeld noted that the Commission on Public Advocacy developed standards in 2002 but that they have never been used. Senator Patty Pansing Brooks expressed clear support for implementation of capital defense guidelines, saying, “Should there be standards? Absolutely. Should we be using the best practices possible? Yes. Should we have the lawyers who are the most prepared? Yes.”