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What is involved in Defense Of A Capital Case?



Capital or death penalty cases are unlike other standard criminal cases from a defense perspective in several important and key ways:

Death Sentence Potential Impacts All Litigation Phases

The potential for a death sentence in these cases impacts all phases of the litigation and all proceedings. Capital cases necessitate early judicial management, administration, and direction. They also require a great deal of pretrial planning, as they have the potential to involve the most dire type of punishment sentence from the criminal justice system: loss of life. Even the process during which the prosecution decides if it will pursue the death penalty as a sentence is very time-consuming. The significant and weighty process requires a lot of time, effort, and resources on the part of the prosecution, as well as the defense bar.

Substantive Knowledge Base in Capital and Federal Criminal Law Cases is Complex

Capital cases mandate substantive knowledge of the complex, extensive, and thorough jurisprudence that regulates capital punishment cases, as well as the details and complexities of the federal criminal law system, including practices and procedures related to these cases. Federal death penalty cases are very complex, sophisticated, and challenging criminal prosecutions, even apart from the unique component of the potential death sentence. There are statutes, rules, and a body of case law decisions that are special and particular to capital cases. They regulate all aspects, from the appointment of counsel, to compensation of counsel, to procedures for selection of a jury and voir dire.

Jurors Are Used for Trial and Sentencing Phases

Capital cases most often involve two different stages of proceedings. First, there is the guilt phase, which is often called the trial phase. Second, there is the sentencing or penalty phase. Both of these phases are conducted in the presence of a jury in most instances. The role of the jury is therefore more significant and complex with the second component of duty and service added for the sentencing phase. As a result, jurors are told they must render a verdict on the defendant's ultimate guilt or innocence in the trial phase, and then, if the defendant is found guilty, the jurors must decide whether any aggravating or mitigating circumstances arise, weigh the respective factors present, and ascertain whether they should recommend the death penalty as an appropriate sentence. It is harder to assemble a jury panel and to retain those jury members through both phases of proceedings due to the greater time commitment. More instances of family commitments, illness, and financial hardship, if not other acceptable excuses will certainly arise.

More Motions, Legal Challenges, and Work Involved in Higher Stakes Capital Cases

Because of the high stakes of the potential loss of life and the very new nature of many death penalty statutes, judges hearing these cases can expect to do more work. The lawyers on both sides file more motions and raise more legal challenges, as they seek to establish favorable legal precedents for their clients. In the penalty phase, there is a lot of information and evidence that must be investigated, explored, and developed, in particular. In fact, some courts report that the volume of motions filed is double, if not quadruple, that of other ordinary criminal cases.