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National Judicial College receives $1 million grant to help prepare judges for death-penalty cases

RENO, Nev. (Jan. 26, 2024) — The nation’s oldest, largest and most widely attended school for judges – the nonprofit and nonpartisan National Judicial College – has received a $1 million grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to prepare state-court judges to handle cases in which the death penalty is a possibility.

The grant will fund a two-year project to educate judges about best practices in trying so-called capital cases. Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is currently legal in 24 states.

The NJC has offered a course in Handling Capital Cases 35 times since 1976 with 1,097 judges completing it.  

 “We are deeply grateful to the Bureau of Justice Assistance for this grant, which acknowledges our longstanding commitment and unrivaled expertise in judicial education, particularly in the critical area of capital cases,” said NJC President & CEO Benes Z. Aldana.

“This generous funding will not only empower us to expand our educational outreach but also ensures that a significant number of judges across the nation will be better equipped to handle the complexities of death penalty cases with the highest standards of judicial competence and fairness, ultimately contributing to the integrity and effectiveness of our justice system.”

Under the BJA grant, the college will deliver instruction via quarterly webinars, three offerings of a six-week online course, an updated bench book or reference publication (“Presiding Over the Capital Case”), a bench card summarizing the bench book, a clearinghouse of model orders, sample colloquies and checklists, and eight podcasts. The college will also tailor four courses for delivery on site in states.

Subjects to be covered include relevant decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States, jury selection issues, managing the news media, mental issues (competency, insanity, intellectual disability), judicial ethics, racial justice, judicial wellness & vicarious trauma, writing the opinion, and post-conviction matters.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs within the federal Department of Justice. It provides leadership and assistance to local criminal justice programs designed to improve and reinforce the nation’s criminal justice system. Over the years the NJC has received more than $10 million in grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance.


 Founded in 1963 at the recommendation of a committee headed by Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, The National Judicial College remains the only educational institution in the United States that teaches courtroom skills to judges of all types from all over the country, Indian Country and abroad. The categories of judges served by this nonprofit, nonpartisan institution, based at the University of Nevada, Reno, decide more than 95 percent of cases in the United States. Every year the school educates judges from all 50 states either in person or online.

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