The Death Penalty Clinic was founded in 2001 on the principle that the right to a fair trial and equal protection under the law are core societal values. Through individual representation and impact litigation, the Clinic puts this principle into practice. Our mission is to offer a program that helps students develop outstanding legal skills and to serve clients facing capital punishment. Our students gain a strong social justice orientation and the skills necessary to provide vigorous, professional and high-level representation to their clients.
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 on direct appeal and in capital post-conviction proceedings in several states, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, and California. The Death Penalty Clinic also drafts and files amicus curiae briefs, petitions for writs of certiorari, clemency petitions, and pretrial motions in behalf of capital clients across the country. Clinic students also assist in the representation of clients facing the death penalty at trial, and have done so in Texas, Georgia, Virginia, and Alabama. Through its Lethal Injection Project, the Clinic provides resources and counsel to lawyers in dozens of states challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection as a method of execution.
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.