Capital Litigation

Since May of 2005 NDAA has worked on Capital Litigation Improvement Initiatives. A Capital Litigation Pilot Training Project produced a test run of a three-day CLE course surveying the major issues in the complete capital trial—from preparation to post-conviction work. In addition, NDAA created a Capital Litigation Resource Center whose staff researched writings in the area of death penalty practice and also collected trial transcripts of defense experts testifying in capital cases. The center had legal interns researching successful prosecution appellate arguments from published briefs, who then distilled them into short searchable components. NDAA then partnered with the New York Prosecutors Training Institute (NYPTI), which was maintaining a national death penalty brief bank and transcript collection, to significantly widen the audience of capital litigators who could take advantage of this information on-line.

NDAA has been contributing to the NYPTI database and transcript collection since 2005 and subsequently was awarded BJA Grant #2007-CP-BX-K002 to continue building that resource with NYPTI. NYPTI has re-tooled the programming that makes this resource available to capital litigators and transported the information from the brief banks into a wiki, creating an online Website, the Prosecutors’ Encyclopedia. NDAA has assisted in presenting the new operation to a national audience of prosecutors who would then be able to benefit from the grant deliverables available there.

NDAA also received BJA Grant #2008-CP-BX-K002 to produce two three-day training courses focusing on the two aspects of capital litigation, which make it different from all other criminal trials in the United States: death qualification of capital juries and penalty phase practice. Those two trainings were offered in July and August of 2009 and the faculty presentations and demonstrations at both were videotaped. There were enough grant funds remaining to produce a third course on mental health and intellectual disability. That course was produced in October of 2010, and all presentations were videotaped.

NDAA produced DVD module packages of the first two completed courses for distribution to capital litigators. The total length of video is around 14 hours. The third course videos are in final production and will also be released. NYPTI has advised NDAA that, in addition to being able to provide online capital research through its Prosecutors’ Encyclopedia, it will have the capability to video broadcast the DVD content to interested prosecutors. Also, prosecutors may download all the video content for these courses in a digital format as well as the written materials for use in their offices. To access these NDAA materials from NYPTI, prosecutors should go to and click on “Request an Account.”

This project was supported by Grant No. 2007-CP-BX-K002 and Grant No. 2008-CP-BX-K002 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Office for Victims of Crime. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not represent the official position or policies of the United States Department of Justice.

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