At the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project, we believe that all persons facing a possible death sentence should have the assistance of competent, effective lawyers at every stage of the proceedings against them. Our mission is to address the crisis of counsel in the death penalty system by improving the quality and availability of defense counsel for capital defendants and those on death row. To this end, we work to recruit volunteer attorneys to represent prisoners on death row who are without counsel, to train judges and defense counsel about the elements of an effective capital defense and appeal, to achieve systemic reforms in jurisdictions that fail to provide adequate counsel, and to support colleagues in the defender community by providing resources and scholarships to attend training conferences.
A key part of these effort is the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. The Guidelines were first adopted by the ABA House of Delegates in 1989 and then revised substantially in 2003 to provide further explanation and guidance on the requirements in the Guidelines. The ABA Death Penalty Representation Project has worked to encourage state and local bar associations and governments to adopt the Guidelines as their standard for the performance of capital counsel and as a guide for local jurisdictions administering the death penalty. Numerous state and local bar associations, defender organizations, and judiciaries have expressly adopted the Guidelines in the past ten years, and they have been cited as a standard of care in hundreds of court opinions.