History of the Death Penalty Defense Unit

The Board of Indigents’ Defense Services established the Capital Defense Coordinator Office in FY 1995 in response to the enactment of the death penalty. The Board transferred its most experienced attorney to the office and authorized a temporary Office Assistant I to assist. In FY 1996 the office expanded and its name was changed to the Death Penalty Defense Unit to more accurately reflect its mission to defend potential death penalty cases statewide. The purpose of the office is to establish and administer procedures and to provide services that result in the highest quality defense of persons accused of murder when the potential penalty is death. To accomplish this purpose, the Death Penalty Defense Unit will:

  1. represent all individuals, except those with which the office has a conflict of interest, charged with potentially capital cases wherever charged in the state;
  2. establish and administer a system by which courts may appoint qualified attorneys;
  3. plan and execute training programs for staff, public defenders, private counsel, investigators, mitigation specialists and ancillary staff including continuing legal education programs, manuals and newsletters;
  4. establish and maintain a resource library and consultation service for attorneys assigned to capital or potentially capital cases;
  5. collect and maintain statistical records regarding the use of capital punishment; and
  6. establish through contract and/or negotiation a system for providing trial counsel with competent and cost-effective expert and investigative services needed to defend potentially capital cases.
In FY 2000, this office employed five trial attorneys, four appellate attorneys, one investigator, a mitigation specialist,
four legal assistants, and one clerical position.

During FY 1995, the first fiscal year following reenactment of capital punishment, 10 potential capital cases appeared with
five charged as capital offenses. In the second year, FY 1996, four cases were charged as capital, two of which
were represented by retained counsel and two by the Death Penalty Defense Unit. In FY 1997, twelve potentially
capital cases arose, nine of which were charged with capital murder. In FY 1998, ten potential capital cases were filed,
eight were in fact charged capital, two were reduced to non-capital and two were pled to avoid the death penalty.
In FY 1999, nine cases were filed with potential capital charges, eight of those were filed capital, two pled to avoid the death penalty, and one was amended to non-capital.

In FY 2000, 13 cases were filed with potential capital charges, six of those were filed capital, one pled to avoid the death penalty. Ten cases were completed in FY 2000.