BEATRICE – A Nebraska State Senator says Nebraska’s decision to reinstate the death penalty means there should be accepted standards for defense counsel performance in capital cases.
The Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee Friday considered the feasibility of adopting American Bar Association guidelines for appointment and performance of defense counsel in death penalty cases.
State Senator Adam Morfeld said ten states have taken that step.
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In 2016, Nebraska voters reinstated the death penalty, and the first execution in over 20 years was carried out last month.
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Morfeld says the Commission on Public Advocacy several years ago set initial standards for defense counsel in capital cases, but the standards are without the force of law.
Emily Olson-Gault is the American Bar Association’s Director of the Death Penalty Representation Project. She told the Judiciary Committee the A-B-A takes no position, for or against the death penalty. But she said the most important factor in due process is to have qualified, adequately-resourced defense counsel. She said the guidelines reflect the views of attorneys across the U.S.
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Olson-Gault says the A-B-A guidelines for defense counsel in death penalty cases represent the “bare minimum” of what states need.
Judiciary Committee Chairperson, Senator Laura Ebke said senators often hear from people who believe it is a waste of taxpayer money during repeated appeals in death penalty cases.
Olson-Gault pointed out that around 150 people have been exonerated from death row in the U.S., often after multiple rounds of appeals.
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Olson-Gault says frequently, a death penalty case hinges on whether adequate information was known by judges or juries at trial.