Projects and Cases
In This Section
The Death Penalty Clinic is primarily a litigation clinic, in which students assist in all aspects of the representation of men and women on death row or facing capital charges. Under the close supervision and guidance of experienced faculty, clinical students work on cases in a number of states - including California, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Virginia, and Texas - in state and federal courts, from the trial level to the appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. The high faculty-to-student ratio ensures that the students receive an intensive level of supervision, appropriate to the complexity and demands of capital litigation. The following is a description of the Clinic's caseload.
Clinic students collaborate with understaffed and underfunded capital trial lawyers in the South in the representation of indigent clients facing death sentences at trial. Among other projects, students conduct investigation, write legal motions, consult with forensic experts, and analyze social history records in these cases. To date, the Clinic has been involved in the defense of clients at trial in Texas, Georgia, Virgina, and Alabama, and has been successful in achieving positive outcomes for these clients.
Through their work on direct appeals, clinic students gain an intensive research and writing experience. They also become immersed in substantive criminal law and procedure and learn how to spot and prioritize legal claims. The Clinic represented a client in his automatic appeal before the California Supreme Court and his petition for review in the U.S. Supreme Court, and has recently undertaken the representation of two Georgia death row inmates and one Louisiana death row inmate in their appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court and Louisiana Supreme Court, respectively.
STATE POST-CONVICTION PROCEEDINGS
Post-conviction capital work requires a complete reinvestigation of the original trial, with the goal of uncovering and presenting constitutional and statutory violations. Clinic students working on post-conviction cases interview clients, conduct field investigation with trained professional investigators as well as clinic faculty, consult with forensic experts, secure and analyze voluminous social history and other case-related documents, and draft post-conviction pleadings in the trial and appellate courts. The Clinic represents a client on California's death row and several post-conviction capital clients on Alabama's death row. The Clinic has also provided targeted assistance in Alabama cases to other lawyers representing indigent clients pro bono. The Clinic was also co-counsel, along with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, for a former Alabama inmate who was released from prison in 2007 after being convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole for capital murder.
FEDERAL HABEAS CORPUS PROCEEDINGS
While all of the Clinic's cases give students a hands-on experience with complex litigation, there is perhaps no area of the law more challenging than federal habeas corpus proceedings. Clinic students have worked on several capital cases in federal court, including briefing in the U.S. District Court, 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a North Carolina death row inmate. They have also assisted counsel in Washington, D.C. who represent an Alabama death row inmate in federal habeas proceedings.
AMICUS CURIAE BRIEFS
Through their participation in targeted amicus curiae briefs, clinic students contribute to systemic law reform, and experience what it is like to be part of a national team working on high-profile, high-impact cases. Clinic students and faculty wrote a number of amicus briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases advancing the rights of all citizens to participate in jury service. The Clinic also had a leading role in the advocacy related to the Supreme Court’s decision to review challenges to lethal injection as a method of execution, in Baze v. Rees. The Clinic filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of death row inmates in California, Missouri, Maryland, and Florida; created an extensive resource kit for members of the press; and prepared a cross-referenced and linked “Q and A" document for the press and the public. For more information on the Clinic's amicus work, click here.
The Clinic is engaged in a number of other projects related to the administration of capital punishment in this country. Most notably, through its Lethal Injection Project, the Clinic maintains a web-based clearinghouse, http://lethalinjection.org, that provides resources to lawyers across the country challenging lethal injection as a method of execution, and assistance from the Clinic's two lethal injection staff attorneys, Megan McCracken and Jen Moreno. The Clinic has taken on other targeted advocacy projects. For example, in 2002, the Clinic filed two petitions for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court, raising the question of whether people sentenced to death are entitled to lawyers in clemency proceedings and proceedings to determine whether they are competent to be executed. Although the Supreme Court denied certiorari in these cases, the Court eventually ruled in favor of the Clinic's position in Harbison v. Bell.