August 18, 2016

ABA urges 8th Circuit to strike down forced pro bono representation in capital cases

CHICAGO, Aug. 18, 2016 — The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief Wednesday, supporting the petition of a Missouri death-row inmate who is asserting that forced pro bono representation is not a substitute for an adequately funded capital defense system.

While federal law grants indigent defendants a right to appointed counsel in federal habeas corpus proceedings, federal courts often fail to grant adequate funding for these attorneys to provide effective representation. In this case, now before the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, appellate lawyers for Mark Christeson, who was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1999, submitted a representation budget with expenses of $161,000 but were awarded only $10,000 for the habeas corpus appeal, which included a full investigation, preparation, filing and extensive briefing.

“Ensuring that Mr. Christeson receives the quality, conflict-free legal representation to which the Supreme Court has made clear he is entitled requires that counsel be fully compensated for the performance of those responsibilities,” the American Bar Association brief said, citing numerous ABA standards and model rules.

“A court’s decision to provide a mere fraction of the funding reasonably requested by counsel in a capital case or any criminal case, with little or no explanation other than referencing the expectation that attorneys will provide pro bono services, reflects an impracticable approach based on mistaken assumptions about the availability of pro bono services,” the brief added.

The amicus brief in Christeson v. Roper is available here.

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