March 05, 2018

ABA Policies

Policy

The American Bar Association has adopted of series of policies geared toward ensuring that capital cases are adjudicated fairly, impartially, in accordance with due process of law, and to minimize the risk that innocent persons are executed.

Urges each jurisdiction that imposes capital punishment to prohibit the imposition of a death sentence on or execution of any individual who was 21 years old or younger at the time of the offense. 02/18 - download report

Urges each jurisdiction that imposes capital punishment to promulgate execution protocols in an open and transparent manner and require public review and comment prior to final adoption of any execution protocol, and require disclosure to the public by all relevant agencies of all relevant information regarding execution procedures. 02/15 – download report

Urges all governments that impose capital punishment, and the military, to require that before a court can impose a sentence of death, a jury must unanimously recommend or vote to impose that sentence, and the jury in such cases must also unanimously agree on the existence of any fact that is a prerequisite for eligibility for the death penalty.  02/15 – download report

Urges courts in capital cases to adopt jury instructions which are in language understandable by jurors untrained in law and legal terms. 2/12 - download report

Without taking a position supporting or opposing the death penalty, urges each jurisdiction that imposes capital punishment to implement specific policies and procedures as it relates to mental illness. 8/06 - download report

Adopts revisions to the black letter ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases and recommends adoption of the Guidelines by death penalty jurisdictions. 2/03 - download report

Urge jurisdictions that impose capital punishment not to carry out the death penalty until the jurisdiction implements policies and procedures that are consistent with four longstanding Association policies intended to (1) ensure that death penalty cases are administered fairly and impartially, in accordance with due process; and (2) minimize the risk that innocent persons may be executed, with the understanding that, apart from existing policies relating to offenders who are mentally retarded or under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the offenses, the Association takes no position on the death penalty. 2/97 - download report

Death Penalty Legislation and Native Americans. Without taking a position on the enactment of general federal death penalty legislation, support in principle legislative measures, which would prevent or minimize any disproportionate effects of general federal death penalty legislation on Native Americans subject to federal jurisdiction. 8/91 - download report

Urge implementation of certain measures in the litigation of death penalty cases, including the provision of competent and adequately compensated counsel, and commend to Congress sample legislation as a way to implement the recommendations. 2/90 - download report

Recommend adoption of Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases, subject to such exceptions as may be appropriate in the military, by entities providing counsel in death penalty cases. 2/89. Please see revised Guidelines of 2/03 for current ABA policy.

Urge that no person with mental retardation, as now defined by the American Association on Mental Retardation, should be sentenced to death or executed. Support enactment of legislation barring the execution of defendants with mental retardation. 2/89 - download report

Oppose discrimination in capital sentencing on the basis of the race of either the victim or the defendant; support legislation that strives to eliminate racial discrimination in capital sentencing and which provides that a challenge to a death sentence can result in relief in certain instances. 8/88 - download report

Recommend that when attorneys are appointed to represent defendants in the trial of death penalty cases, two attorneys shall be appointed as trial counsel to represent the defendant, and the primary attorney shall have substantial trial experience which includes the trial of serious felony cases. 2/85 - download report

Oppose in principle the imposition of capital punishment upon any person for any offense committed while under the age of 18. 8/83- download report

Recommend that the U.S. Supreme Court adopt a rule providing for appointment of counsel to prepare petitions for discretionary review of state court convictions, including appropriate post-conviction or clemency petitions if necessary, in death penalty cases where the defendant cannot afford to hire counsel. Offer its assistance in identifying qualified attorneys. Recommend the amendment of the Criminal Justice Act (18 U.S.C. §3600A) to provide adequate compensation to counsel so appointed. 2/79 - download report

Back to Top

Adopts the black letter ABA Criminal Justice Standards on DNA Evidence, dated August 2006. 8/06 - download report

Urges federal, state, and territorial governments to identify and attempt to eliminate the causes of erroneous convictions and to assist in the effort to identify and attempt to eliminate the causes of erroneous convictions. 8/05 - download report

Urges federal, state, local and territorial jurisdictions to enact statutes to adequately compensate persons who have been convicted and incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. 2/05 - download report

Urges federal, state, local, and territorial governments to reduce the risk of convicting the innocent by establishing standards of practice for defense counsel in serious non-capital cases. 2/05 - download report

Urges federal, state, local, and territorial governments to reduce the risk of convicting the innocent while increasing the likelihood of convicting the guilty, by ensuring that no prosecution should occur based solely on the uncorroborated testimony of a jailhouse informant. 2/05 - download report

Recommends the accreditation of crime laboratories and medical examiner offices, the certification of examiners, and the standardization and publication of lab procedures and urges adequate funding for crime labs and medical examiner offices for improving scientific and expert testimony in criminal cases. 8/04 - download report

Urges federal, state, local and territorial governments to establish and fund investigative procedures designed to ensure accuracy in criminal investigation and prevent wrongful conviction of the innocent, as well as training programs to ensure the procedures are carried out, and disciplinary procedures in cases where they are not. 8/04 - download report

Urge states, territories, and the federal government to strive to eliminate actual and perceived racial and ethnic bias in the criminal justice system and recommend the establishment of Criminal Justice Racial Task Forces to reduce or eliminate racial disparities at each stage of the criminal justice process. 8/04 - download report

Urges all law enforcement agencies to videotape the entirety of custodial interrogations of crime suspects at police precincts, courthouses, detention centers, or other places where suspects are held for questioning, or, where videotaping is impractical, to audiotape the entirety of such custodial interrogations. 2/04 - download report

Urges jurisdictions to adhere to certain Principles concerning Biological Evidence collected in conjunction with the investigation of a criminal case. 8/00 - download report

Back to Top

Adopts ABA Guidelines of Public Defense Related to Excessive Workloads, which provide guidance to public defense programs and lawyers who provide the representation, when they are confronted with too many persons to represent and are thus prevented from discharging their responsibilities under professional conduct rules. 8/09 - download report

Urges federal, state, local, and territorial governments to reduce the risk of convicting the innocent by establishing standards of practice for defense counsel in serious non-capital cases. 2/05 - download report

Adopts revisions to the black letter ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases and recommends adoption of the Guidelines by death penalty jurisdictions. 2/03 - download report

Urge that military capital prisoners be provided with the same opportunity for the assistance of counsel in seeking federal post-conviction habeas corpus relief as is now provided by federal law for persons sentenced to death in the civilian courts of this country. 8/96 - download report

Urge implementation of certain measures in the litigation of death penalty cases, including the provision of competent and adequately compensated counsel, and commend to Congress sample legislation as a way to implement the recommendations. 2/90 - download report

Recommend adoption of Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases, subject to such exceptions as may be appropriate in the military, by entities providing counsel in death penalty cases. 2/89. Please see revised Guidelines of 2/03 for current ABA policy.

Recommend that when attorneys are appointed to represent defendants in the trial of death penalty cases, two attorneys shall be appointed as trial counsel to represent the defendant, and the primary attorney shall have substantial trial experience which includes the trial of serious felony cases. 2/85 - download report

Recommend that the U.S. Supreme Court adopt a rule providing for appointment of counsel to prepare petitions for discretionary review of state court convictions, including appropriate post-conviction or clemency petitions if necessary, in death penalty cases where the defendant cannot afford to hire counsel. Offer its assistance in identifying qualified attorneys. Recommend the amendment of the Criminal Justice Act (18 U.S.C. §3600A) to provide adequate compensation to counsel so appointed. 2/79 - download report

Back to Top

Adopts the black letter ABA Criminal Justice Standards on Prosecutorial Investigations, dated February 2008, to supplement the ABA Criminal Justice Standards on the Prosecution Function. 2/08 - download report

Adopts principles and standards to be used by prosecutors to reduce the risk of wrongly convicting the innocent and urges the government to fund prosecutors’ offices adequately in order to perform these procedures while also urging that workload standards for prosecutors be established. 8/04 - download report

Back to Top

Urges courts in capital cases to adopt jury instructions which are in language understandable by jurors untrained in law and legal terms. 2/12 - download report

Adopts the ABA Principles Relating to Juries and Jury Trials dated February 2005 and recommends that the appropriate entities review and revise, as appropriate, their respective Standards so as to eliminate any conflicts with the Principles and urges state, local, and territorial bar associations to improve the management of jury trials by promoting implementation of the Principles. 2/05 - download report

Proposes that defendants in military capital cases be given the right to trial before court martial panels whose size is fixed at 12 members. 8/01 - download report

Supports principles to preserve and strengthen federal judicial independence and separation of powers, and urges the ABA to take the lead in the formation of a consortium of organization dedicated to an independent judiciary and an impartial system of equal justice. 2/98 - download report

Back to Top

  • Death Penalty
  • Wrongful Convictions
  • Defense Counsel
  • Prosecutors
  • Judges and Juries