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Thursday, January 24, 2008

CrimProf Richard Dieter Discusses the Cons of One Representing Themselves in a Death Penalty Trial

From post-gazette.com: Catholic University Law School CrimProf Richard Dieter discusses the problems with a person representing themselves in a capital murder trial. This is in regards to Patrick Jason Stollar, who is charged with robbing and killing an elderly Upper St. Clair woman, who has made a tactical decision that most lawyers say is extremely ill-advised. He is acting as his own lawyer in a death penalty case.

"The brain surgery of the legal profession is death penalty cases. It's not something any lawyer should do, much less a non-lawyer,"

Experienced capital defense lawyers often work in pairs and spend a year preparing for trial. They interview witnesses, dig up records, do research, reinvestigate facts and locate experts.

The American Bar Association guidelines for taking on a death penalty case, the standard used by the U.S. Supreme Court and more than 50 state and federal courts, recommend hiring a licensed attorney with a commitment to "zealous advocacy," oral advocacy skills, complex negotiation and writing skills, expertise in fingerprints, ballistics, forensic pathology and DNA evidence, aptitude in presenting mental health evidence and trial advocacy skills, including jury selection, cross-examination of witnesses, opening statements and closing arguments.

Mr. Stollar, a former day laborer who has attempted suicide several times in jail, does not have a law degree.

It is very uncommon for defendants to represent themselves in capital cases, experts say.

Notable exceptions include Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti, who dressed like Tom Mix and tried to subpoena Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy at trial. Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, wanted to represent himself, but ended up taking a plea. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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