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About / The Database

The American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project (“the Project”) created the National Capital Standards Database in 2013 to serve as a repository for historical and current standards for representation in capital cases. These standards come from published guidelines for capital defense, training materials from state-based and national defender conferences, and training manuals for capital defenders. The creation of this resource would not have been possible without the contribution of more than two decades worth of materials from the defender community. The Project extends its heartfelt gratitude to the many defenders who provided their personal copies of documents for inclusion in the database. The Project also extends a special note of thanks to the ABA Section of Litigation, which provided generous funding for the creation of the website and digitalization of paper materials, and DreamHost, Inc., which is donating server space to host the website.

File Format

The large majority of the files in this database come from various capital defender training conferences. Every effort has been made to retain information about the conference title, year, and location, and where possible, the conference session is noted in an abbreviated format in the name of the file (see note on file names below). Regardless of original format, all files have been converted to PDF format with text recognition. You will need the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader (or similar) to view these files. Adobe Reader is available as a free download here. If you need to see any particular file with its original name or format, please contact the Death Penalty Representation Project and we will attempt to locate the file. However all substantive information from the original documents is preserved in the PDF version. In some instances, PowerPoint presentations have been reformatted to remove graphic-intensive backgrounds that rendered the file too large to be used on this website; however no text or substantive graphics/images have been removed.

File Names

The files in this archive originated in locations all over the world in a wealth of different formats over a span of decades. Their original names varied from the exceptionally detailed (e.g. “American Bar Association Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases 2003 Revision Blackletter Only.doc”) to the exceptionally brief (e.g. “Doc1.doc”). To create a more standardized collection of materials, all files have been renamed using the following general structure:

SponsoringOrganization_Conference_Year_Session_FileName.pdf.

In some cases where the conference is nationally known and recognizable (e.g. the NAACP LDF’s Airlie conference), the sponsoring organization has been omitted. In some instances it was not possible to determine which session the document came from, in which cases the session information has been omitted as well. Full information about Conference Name, Sponsoring Organization(s), Conference Location, Conference Year, and Geographical Focus (national, state, etc.), is also noted on each individual file’s download page. If you need additional information about a particular file or conference, contact the Death Penalty Representation Project and we will make every effort to assist.

Guidelines Case Summaries

Since the publication of the 2003 ABA Guidelines, the Project has summarized every judicial opinion citing to the ABA Guidelines (1989 and 2003 editions) and the Supplementary Guidelines for the Mitigation Function. These summaries were previously available only as a several-hundred page Word document. They are presented here for the first time in a fully indexed and searchable format. You can still access the Word and PDF versions of this document by contacting the Project and requesting the latest update.

A few points to keep in mind when using the Summaries section of this website:

  • Every effort has been made to locate all opinions citing to the Guidelines, but it is possible that we have inadvertently excluded some cases. If you are aware of such a case, you are welcome to bring it to the attention of the Project staff.
  • These summaries include ALL opinions that cite to the Guidelines, not just those that do so favorably.
  • The discussion of the Guidelines may be located in a dissenting or concurring opinion. Where this is the case, it is noted in the body of the summary.
  • The Project does not have the capacity at this time to research and note later decisions that may impact any given case. Be aware that some of these cases may have been overruled or affected by later precedent!
  • The Summaries included here are intended as a starting point for your research, and all information should be independently verified by the user.

Standards and Conference Materials

The capital defense standards collected here were created by hundreds of capital defenders and experts over a period of several decades. They are intended primarily as an historical reference when assessing prior counsel’s performance. Many of these standards are no longer current, and it is the user’s responsibility to determine the accuracy and applicability of the information contained in the standards before relying on them as a guide to current practice.

Our collection of standards is continually growing and expanding. If you have conference materials, practice guides, or training manuals that you would to donate for inclusion on the site, please contact Emily Williams at emily.williams@americanbar.org. If the files are in hard copy/paper format, we are happy to send them for scanning and digitization. Thank you to all that have helped make this resource possible!


You can learn more tips and tricks for using the database in our help section!

For more information about the Database, contact the Site Manager at support@capstandards.org.