In the words of Stephen Bright, “the death penalty is for poor people.” Inadequate legal representation does not occur in just a few capital cases. It is pervasive in those jurisdictions which account for most of the death sentences.
Far too often, what distinguishes those who are sent to death row from those who are not is not the gravity of their crime, but rather the quality of their attorneys. SCHR’s clients typically become our clients after they have been sentenced to death. In the course of representing these individuals, we often discover that our client had been poorly represented at trial.
The low quality of representation may have been caused by any number of reasons: inexperience, inattention, or a lack of resources. Whatever the reason, poor representation results in juries not hearing critical evidence or other failures that then result in a death sentence where a more vigorous defense would have resulted in a different outcome. SCHR seeks to remedy injustice for these individual clients on a case by case basis.
At the same time, SCHR understands that ineffective assistance of counsel for poor people facing the death penalty is a systemic problem caused by a lack of adequate funding and quality training. So long as we continue to have a system of justice that allows the imposition of a sentence of death, the quality of representation in capital cases must continue to improve.