The Death Penalty Clinic opened its doors in August 2001. The clinic's mission is to offer a program that helps students develop outstanding legal skills and to serve clients facing capital punishment. These complex cases teach students about law, courts, and the justice system, and prepare them to enter the profession with a commitment to fundamental rights. Students work under the direct supervision of the clinic's faculty, paralegal, and experienced capital defense investigators.
In response to a critical shortage of qualified and adequately funded counsel for individuals under death sentence, the focus of the clinic's work is representing men and women in capital post-conviction proceedings in several states, including Alabama and California. The Death Penalty Clinic also takes on other work, including amicus curiae briefs, petitions for writs of certiorari, clemency petitions, and pretrial motions in capital cases. The clinic also has been co-counsel with law firms engaged in pro bono representation in death penalty cases.
The seminar that accompanies the clinical work provides a theoretical foundation for the students. Topics include relevant substantive capital punishment law; habeas corpus practice and procedure; and the fundamentals of death penalty litigation, including fact investigation, interview techniques, and the development of mitigation evidence.
Because of the complexity of death penalty litigation, students are required to enroll in the clinic for a year. Students work as part of legal teams assigned to the clinic's clients. In regular sessions with the faculty and in the companion seminar, students learn how to conduct a capital case investigation, work with clients and interview witnesses, consult with forensic experts, draft pleadings, and prepare for hearings.