Right to Counsel & the Death Penalty

Class Unique: 29110
This small course taught in seminar style will examine from a variety of perspectives the substance of the "right to counsel" in the context of the American system of capital punishment. We will begin with the historical predecessors to the current debate over what constitutes effective legal representation for capital defendants (e.g., the Scottsboro Boys case). We will proceed to examine in detail the current standard for assessing effective assistance and how it has evolved over the past 25 years from Strickland v. Washington in 1984 to Williams v. Taylor in 2000, Wiggins v. Smith in 2003, and Carey v. Landrigan in the current Term. We will consider whether the Supreme Court's efforts to regulate the performance of counsel in capital cases since Williams have been successful, by examining cases from the lower federal courts applying those standards. Special attention will be devoted to attempts by groups such as the American Bar Association and the State Bar of Texas to create specific guidelines to govern counsel's preparation and presentation of the defense case. We will also consider whether the absence of an enforceable right to counsel at other stages of the process (e.g., state and federal post- conviction habeas corpus proceedings, or clemency proceedings) has undermined the overall fairness and reliability of the post-trial review system. The course will give close attention to aspects of the attorney-client relationship (including conflicts that arise in that relationship) that are unique to death penalty cases (e.g., what must counsel do if her client, once convicted of a death-eligible crime, directs her not to attempt to persuade the jury to impose a sentence of life imprisonment?). The course will have a maximum of 15 students.

Class Details

Meeting Days Time Location
Tuesday, Thursday 10:30 - 11:20 am TNH 3.114
Evaluation Method Date Time Alpha Range Room

Additional Information

Course Type


Owen, Robert C. Owen, Robert C.