Guidelines Implementation Fact Sheet
In 2001 the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project sponsored a project to revise the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. The original ABA Guidelines, approved in 1989, were heavily relied upon as nationally recognized standards on the defense of capital cases. The revised edition expanded the original standards to reflect recent legal developments and provided additional explanation and guidance to assist judges and capital defenders. The revised edition overwhelmingly passed in the ABA House of Delegates without dissent on February 10, 2003.
The 2003 ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases are now recognized as the standard of care in the defense of death penalty cases. The ABA Guidelines are regularly cited by state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to assess counsel performance and ensure adequate funding and resources for the defense team effort.
* In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case of Rompilla v. Beard, 545 U.S. 374, for a new sentencing hearing after finding that Rompilla's defense counsel was ineffective. The Court cited to § 10.7 of the ABA Guidelines noting: "Counsel must ... investigate prior convictions ... that could be used as aggravating circumstances or otherwise come into evidence. If a prior conviction is legally flawed, counsel should seek to have it set aside. Counsel may also find extenuating circumstances that can be offered to lessen the weight of a conviction."
* In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a new sentencing hearing in the case of Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510 after finding that defense counsel's conduct "fell short of the standards for capital defense work articulated by the American Bar Association (ABA) - standards to which we have long referred as "guides to determining what is reasonable" and that counsel's performance fell below the Guidelines' "well-defined norms."
The ABA has called on all death penalty jurisdictions to implement the Guidelines. To this end, the Project speaks to state and national judicial groups, works with state legislators, and trains capital defenders about the importance of the Guidelines and how courts across the country are using them.
* In early 2008, the Nevada Supreme Court issued new standards for the defense of capital cases that substantially conform to the 2003 ABA Guidelines.
* In 2007, Oregon's Office of Public Defense Services adopted the 2003 ABA Guidelines.
* In 2006, the Arizona Supreme Court amended the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure to require that death penalty counsel "be guided by and familiar with" the performance standards of the ABA Guidelines.
* In 2006, the Texas State Bar adopted a Texas version of the Guidelines which is almost identical to the ABA version.
* In 2005, the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council adopted the ABA Guidelines (except where the Guidelines conflicted with Georgia law).
* In 2005, The Alabama Circuit Court Judges Conference adopted the ABA Guidelines by Resolution.
* In 2003, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) adopted the ABA Guidelines, noting that they are "necessary standards to ensure minimally adequate representation in capital cases."
* In 2003, the Department for Public Advocacy for the Commonwealth of Kentucky adopted the performance standards of the ABA Guidelines.
Please contact the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project for more information. We can be reached at 202-662-1738 or via e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about our work, please visit our website at http://www.abanet.org/deathpenalty.