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January 21, 2007

Important series on capital representation

Any lawyer or law student interested in the death penalty should be attentive to the realities of representation issues in capital cases.  And that means every lawyer or law student interested in the death penalty must read Stephen Henderson's fantastic series of related articles about the poor quality of capital defense assembled here under the heading "No Defense: Shortcut to Death Row."  The lead piece is available here and is entitled "Indefensible? Lawyers in key death penalty states often fall short."   

More information can be found at this post on my home blog and also from at CDW and ODPI.

January 21, 2007 in Quality of counsel | Permalink


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I was surprised to find this series of articles on Kentucky.com too, the website for Lexington, Kentucky's only daily newspaper, The Lexington Herald Leader. Being from this medium-sized town, I am happy to see that the paper found this series of articles to be both relevant and of enough interest to the general readership to be added to the newspaper. Perhaps Lexington is similar to the small towns of Virginia and the other states portrayed in the articles, and thus also is confronted with the financial pressures of providing a proper defense. Kentucky does have the death penalty, although the state has only executed two people in the past thirty years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

I find the interaction between the media and criminal cases to be an interesting dynamic: a combination of reader awareness and political pressure/scrutiny. The newspaper’s choice to run this series of articles alerts the community to be aware of some of the problems with defendant’s rights (lack of adequate counsel) in the administration of a death penalty sentence, while also alerting law makers and judges that there is transparency and awareness in their actions and decisions regarding death penalty cases. The media therefore helps create another layer of checks and balances to the administration of a death sentence, thus, helping protect everyone’s rights, especially a defendant’s.

The link to the same series of articles, on the Kentucky website:

Posted by: Caitlin C | Jan 21, 2007 9:38:05 PM

I think this article serves as an interesting contrast to the normal role we see the media play in death penalty cases. Though the media may play a role as a check on the administration of the death penalty, it often seems to serve as an instigator. We often find the newspapers focusing on the grisly details of the murders (not in small part because their main job is to sell newspapers). This focus tends to fuel the public fire against defendants and seemingly increase the chance of a death sentence being handed down. I would be interested to read the news coverage of the cases in this McClatchy Newspapers study. I would bet that the newspapers of these rural areas spent much more time discussing how the victims were killed and how their families have been destroyed than how the defense was conducted.

Posted by: Kurt C. | Jan 22, 2007 10:18:15 AM

I agree with the first comment that the media may be essentially a fourth element to checks and balances, and increases awareness of defendants' rights, but it creates concern to me that it is solely the media’s selection of death row candidates to shine the public spotlight. The same is true in all story lines and media avenues, in that, for example one missing child will be highlighted, becoming a symbolic victim in the public’s eyes. Here, in McClathy’s Special Report, the cause itself is addressed and in a way seeming to only increase awareness. This report seems unique. Often it is the highlighted cases that are resolved fairly to all parties involved via heightened attention. I’m sure the benefit of the attention radiates to other cases and enhances attention to all similar issues, but there still leaves a vacuum - an entirely media-driven benefit to one death row candidate and his or her family, at the expense of the others, or in an unequal balance with the others. Overall, the attention to the issue of inadequate defense and the rights of defendants is important and increases public awareness, but it does seem to be the luck of the media draw. Although ultimately, a death row inmate or the cause benefits, the media’s goal usually seems as much in profits (and resulting luck to some) than pure activism. This may actually work long-term as a check and balance though.

Posted by: Andrea E | Jan 28, 2007 10:50:30 AM

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