Mitigation and Capital Crimes


When it comes to capital cases and decisions about death penalties, most people have strong opinions.  This is especially true when you discuss a specific case.  However, in order to be an effective professional developing a mitigation report that may help determine whether a person receives the death penalty or not, you do not have to be either pro- or con-death penalty.  Instead, you can simply be someone dedicated to making the criminal justice system work fairly and fully for all clients.For you to take a neutral position on the death penalty, you should be knowledgeable about the process of trials, especially ones involving capital crimes.  Some facts you should be aware of are:


1.      Capital punishment decisions hinge on jurors who may not understand their task.

"People called upon to sit on juries for capital crimes often do not understand the language of the law, the factors they are supposed to weigh in considering a sentence, or even that they have final responsibility for imposing punishment" (National Science Foundation News, January 14, 1997).


2.      The lawyers who defend people on capital cases are sometimes incompetent.

"U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said…that too many defendants in death penalty cases have incompetent lawyers, adding her voice to the growing national debate over capital punishment in the United States.  'People should not be prosecuted for a capital crime until they have a lawyer who can properly represent them and they have the investigative and other resources to properly investigate the charges against them,' she said"  (Yahoo!.News, June 15, 2000).


Calvin Burdine was sentenced to death in Texas.  During the death penalty trial his attorney slept.  The State of Texas is appealing the federal judge's ruling that he should receive another trial.


3.      Almost all modern industrialized nations do not apply capital punishment to any crimes because they consider it cruel and inhuman punishment.  Note: cruel and inhuman punishment is a violation of the US Constitution, however, we have yet to define capital punishment in the same way as other modern nations.


"The death penalty is considered by most civilized nations as a cruel and inhuman punishment.  It has been abolished de jure or de facto by 106 nations, 30 countries have abolished it since 1990.  However, the death penalty continues to be commonly applied in other nations.  China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States and Iran are the most prolific executioners in the world. Indeed, the US is one of six countries (including also Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen) which executes people who were under 18 years-old at the time they committed their crimes"  ( ).