So far, we have three posts (03/27/09; 04/16/09; 04/20/09) that deal with the role of a judge – at both the trial and appellate levels – in a death penalty case. There’s a lot more to consider about the impact that judges have in death penalty considerations, but before we delve further into their role, it seems wise to bring the attorneys into the mix.
First, the criminal defense attorneys. (Next, the prosecutors.)
Before a lawyer can represent a client who is facing capital punishment in a Florida case, he must meet many, many requirements. Why? The Florida legislature as well as the Florida courts have recognized that when a defendant’s life is at stake, his legal counsel plays a vital role in making sure that due process of law is achieved.
Once again, it’s about your right to due process of law
Every aspect of due process must be vigilantly protected when the State is seeking to kill a defendant as punishment for actions that defendant has allegedly done. The ability of the government to take a citizen’s life must be scrupulously monitored and restrained – this is one of the key purposes of our due process standards.
Remember, as Justice Rehnquist alluded to in the Brady Opinion (04/20/09 post), the focus is on the state, not the individual defendant. Anything but the strictest of due process standards in death penalty cases risks the horrors of a fatal error.
Today, even with our due process standards in place, there are many innocent people who have been sent to Death Row, as the Innocence Project can readily confirm. Some innocent people have been executed in this country. Due process is not perfect – after all, it’s a manmade construct — but it’s the standard that we have set in our judicial system. It’s the best we can do, and our jurisprudence is always attempting to hone and better our due process standards.
Death Penalty Criminal Defense Attorneys in Florida
Perhaps the most important role from a due process perspective in a death penalty case is that of defense counsel. The trial judge, of course, vigilantly monitors each step of the legal process, but it is the defendant’s own attorneys that must make the objections to possible violations, and fill the record for appeal with the proper procedural foundations when errors are made.
A trial judge cannot rule on an objection that is not made. An appellate judge cannot rule a point of error left unaddressed.
Different states have different requirements for their death penalty defense attorneys, as does federal law for federal capital punishment cases. In Florida, a specific checklist provides the legal requirements that a criminal defense attorney must have before he sets as lead trial counsel, trial co-counsel, or appellate counsel for a defendant facing the penalty of death.
Continue Reading The Checklist for Death Penalty Qualified Criminal Defense Attorneys in Florida