American Bar Association


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Welcome! The Death Penalty Committee works within the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice to deal with issues regarding how the death penalty works, on the need for moratoriums, legal reforms, and ABA policies and amicus briefs.

We are pleased to announce that the ABA Death Penalty Due Process Review Project and the University of Texas School of Law are hosting “40 Years After Gregg: A National Conference on the Death Penalty,” from March 31st to April 2nd, 2016 in Austin, Texas. This conference will bring together some of the nation’s leading capital punishment experts and practitioners to share their diverse perspectives, reflect on the dynamic history of capital punishment in the United States over the past 40 years, and discuss the issues impacting the law today. Join us for this unique opportunity to learn more about the complex contours of death penalty law and history, and hear from a diverse array of people whose work affects how this country uses and thinks about capital punishment.


Opinion Piece by Committee Chair, Ron Tabak

The State of Capital Punishment in 2016

Recent Developments in the Death Penalty

Kansas v. Carr
Holding: 1) The Eighth Amendment does not require capital-sentencing courts to instruct a jury that mitigating circumstances need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. 2) The Constitution did not require severance of joint sentencing proceedings because the contention that the admission of mitigating evidence by one defendant could have "so infected" the jury's consideration of the other defendant's sentence as to amount to a denial of due process does not stand in light of all the evidence presented at the guilty and penalty phases relevant to the jury's sentencing determination.

Judgment: Reversed, 8-1, in an opinion by Justice Scalia on January 20, 2016. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion.

Hurst v. Florida
Holding: Florida's capital-sentencing scheme, in which a jury renders an “advisory sentence” but a judge must independently weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors before entering a sentence of life or death, violates the Sixth Amendment in light of the Court's decision in Ring v. Arizona, which deemed unconstitutional an Arizona capital sentencing scheme that permitted a judge rather than the jury to find the facts necessary to sentence a defendant to death.

Judgment: Reversed, 8-1, in an opinion by Justice Sotomayor on January 12, 2016. Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion.

Resolution on Re-entry Unanimously Passes the House of Delegates of NYSBA on Jan. 29, 2016

Ronald Tabak, Chair of Section Death Penalty Committee

Related ABA Policies

Moratorium on Executions. Urges jurisdictions that impose capital punishment not to carry out the death penalty until the jurisdiction implements policies and procedures that are consistent with four longstanding Association policies intended to (1) ensure that death penalty cases are administered fairly and impartially, in accordance with due process, and (2) minimize the risk that innocent persons may be executed, with the understanding that, apart from existing policies relating to offenders who are mentally retarded or under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the offense, the Association takes no position on the death penalty. (Feb. 1997)

Death Penalty (Counsel). Urges implementation of certain measures in the litigation of death penalty cases, including the provision of competent and adequately compensated counsel, and commends to Congress sample legislation as a way to implement the recommendations. (Feb. 1990)

Mental Retardation and the Death Penalty. Urges that no person with mental retardation, as now defined by the American Association on Retardation, be sentenced to death or executed. Supports enactment of legislation barring the execution of defendants with mental retardation. (Feb. 1989)

Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. Recommends the adoption of Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases by entities providing counsel in death penalty cases, subject to such exceptions as may be appropriate in the military. (Feb. 1989)

Habeas corpus. Supports full utilization of certain provisions pertaining to representation in federal habeas corpus death penalty proceedings and acknowledge the efforts of the federal judges to implement them. Urges federal district and circuit courts to adopt and federal judicial councils to approve (1) a plan for providing representation in federal habeas corpus death penalty proceedings in accordance with certain procedures, and (2) certain amendments to its Criminal Justice Act plan. Urges the federal courts to consult extensively with appropriate state criminal justice leaders in developing and carrying out such implementation plans. (Feb. 1988)

Discrimination in Capital Sentencing. Opposes discrimination in capital sentencing on the basis of the race of their the victim or the defendant; supports legislation that strives to eliminate racial discrimination in capital sentencing and that provides that a challenge to a death sentence can result in relief in certain instances. (Aug. 1988)

Death Penalty Cases (Counsel). Recommends that when attorneys are appointed to represent defendants in the trial of death penalty cases, two attorneys shall be appointed as trial counsel to represent the defendant, and that the primary attorney shall have substantial trial experience, including the trial of serious felony cases. (Feb. 1985)

Capital Punishment (Age). Opposes in principle the imposition of capital punishment upon any person for any offense committed while under the age of 18. (Aug. 1983)

Counsel in Death Cases. Urges the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt a rule providing for appointment of counsel to pursue post-conviction remedies in death penalty cases, and recommends that the Criminal Justice Act be amended to provide for adequate compensation to counsel in such cases. (Feb. 1979)

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Tabak, Ronald


Turberville, Sarah

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Committee Events

Prosecutorial Accountability in the Post-Connick v. Thompson Era: Reforms and Solutions

February 4, 2012
Prosecutors play a crucial role in the administration of justice, and rules concerning the performance of their important responsibilities should promote their respect for and compliance with the law. But twice in the past two years the alleged misconduct of the Orleans Parish District Attorney?s Office has been the subject of a case before the United States Supreme Court. This program brings together prosecutors, ethics experts, a former death row prisoner, and academics to discuss these important cases, whether and how prosecutors should be held accountable
for misconduct, and possible solutions and reforms which will help limit future misconduct.
Section Events

    Combating Bias and Increasing Inclusion in the Legal Profession


    The event will be held on 03/28/2017. The format is Web. The event sponsor(s) are Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,Commission on Homelessness and Poverty,Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs,Commission on Law and Aging,Commission on Disability Rights,Center for Professional Development,Criminal Justice Section,Commission on Women In the Profession,Section of Dispute Resolution,Law Practice Division,Section of Family Law,Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division,Center for Human Rights,Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice,Section of Legal Edu. The event has 1.50 CLE Credits .

    Hot Topics in Free Speech and Free Press: New Controversies on the Slippery Slope

    American Bar Association

    Sponsored by the ABA Civil Rights and Social Justice, First Amendment Rights Committee Co-sponsored by the ABA Section of Criminal Justice, the Center for Human Rights, the Law Student Division, and the Young Lawyers Division Hot Topics in Free Speech and Free Press: New Controversies ...

    BREAKING GROUND AT STANDING ROCK: The Dakota Access Pipeline and Environmental Justice


    This Teleconference is Free Sponsored by the ABA Civil Rights and Social Justice, Environmental Justice Committee and Native American Concerns Committee Co-sponsored by the ABA Section of Criminal Justice, the Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources, the Section of State and Local ...

Modified by Paula Shapiro on March 13, 2017

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