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Presiding over a Capital Case: A Benchbook for Judges

View the book chapters and appendices here.

Presiding over a Capital Case

In implementing the death penalty, society has an obligation to ensure it doesn’t execute an innocent person. As a result, lawyers and judges have created a costly, time-consuming, resource-consuming system that provides for multiple levels of review to ensure the process is as fair and accurate as humanly possible. This after-the-fact review system has resulted in a criminal prosecution process that is unique to death penalty cases which includes expanded speedy trial time limits, the appointment of two qualified defense attorneys, defense mitigation teams, special jury selection procedures, and multi-phase trials.
At every stage, the scrutiny on the judge is heightened. There is less room for error. The judge is further constrained by case law. The judge must be more aware of U.S. Supreme Court cases than ever before because the appellate focus is greater than on other cases – making the judge’s task tougher than when handling any other type of case.

To assist judges with the daunting task of presiding over a capital case, The National Judicial College has published Presiding over a Capital Case: A Benchbook for Judges funded under a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The judge-authors of these chapters not only have expertise presiding over numerous death penalty trials, they also have a breadth of experience from teaching at The National Judicial College. The NJC offers an annual program on capital cases and it partners with states to present in-state capital case programs. Presiding over a Capital Case: A Benchbook for Judges include chapters on  federal constitutional issues; case management; pretrial discovery and motions; media relations and pretrial coordination; jury selection; trial issues unique to capital cases; mental retardation; the penalty phase; post-conviction relief; and federal habeas corpus. With the judicial expertise and experience these authors bring to bear, this benchbook offers trial judges a tremendous resource to help them provide the reliability that is demanded of death penalty trials.

Presiding over a Capital Case: A Benchbook for Judges is available, by chapter, electronically on the Capital Cases Resources website.



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