EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Bad Idea of Handling More Than Two Death Penalty Cases at a Time

A couple of days ago, Robert J. Smith published a terrific article in the Slate entitled The Worst Lawyers. Rob is currently a senior fellow at Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute and a visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. I remember corresponding with Rob when he was first starting as a legal academic in 2012 and discussing teaching methodology. I've been impressed by a number of pieces of legal scholarship he's written and would recommend them to anyone.

The Slate piece is excellent. This pull-quote pretty much sums it up:

Defendants get both the deadliest prosecutors in America and some of the country’s very worst defense lawyers.

Here's another interesting paragraph:

Herman Alcantar has been called, by a lawyer intervening on behalf of one of his former clients, “arguably the busiest capital defense attorney in the entire United States.” That’s not a compliment. Capital cases are notoriously complex and time-consuming. One trial-level capital case can be a full caseload for a defense attorney, and almost no one considers it a good idea to handle more than two active death penalty cases at a time. During the winter of 2009, Alcantar represented five pretrial capital defendants at once. He was so busy, in fact, that one month before the trial of Fabio Gomez was set to begin, Alcantar had neither filed a single substantive motion nor visited his client in more than a year. Six of Alcantar’s former clients are on death row. (emphasis added).

This quote gives good additional context to one of the points of discussion in our most recent episode of Undisclosed. While representing Adnan, Cristina Gutierrez was not only involved with eight murder cases in five different jurisdictions; four of these were also death penalty cases. In fact, three of them involved the issue of whether the Federal Death Penalty Act applied in Puerto Rico.



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Is it the attorney's discretion on how many cases to take on at one time? There are no checks and balances? Also, is there a way for a client to check their attorney"s current workload?

Posted by: Leah | Nov 6, 2015 12:04:00 PM

And do you think that the prosecution in Adnan's case did not know this or were above exploiting it?

(the question is rhetorical)

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 6, 2015 1:08:22 PM

Motion Granted!

Posted by: David | Nov 6, 2015 2:14:21 PM

Yes, congratulations to all involved. I have not followed the case other than what I have seen on this blog, which I have been reading for years. I initially was skeptical of the claims and thought it was much ado about nothing. But you guys kept plugging away and as the saying goes, found the devil in the details.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 7, 2015 1:55:03 PM

Leah: Yes, it is in the lawyer’s disclosure, and there is little transparency.

Daniel: I would love to know how much they knew about what was going on with Gutierrez. And thanks!

Posted by: Colin | Nov 7, 2015 5:32:48 PM

Colin, congratulations to all of you who have worked tirelessly for a new chance at justice for Adnan and Hae. Your team is simply inspiring!

You’ve written before that, if a new trial is ordered for Adnan, you believe there are reasons why the State won’t retry him. Can you talk about what those reasons are?

With great appreciation -

Posted by: Bev | Nov 8, 2015 8:04:27 AM

" “Undisclosed” is an exemplar of modern Internet culture on every level: crowd-funded, niche, obsessive, biased and a triumph of enthusiasm over professionalism."
-Ana Marie Cox, Bloomberg News, 4/2/2015
Madame, how would you like that crow served?

Posted by: DrD | Nov 9, 2015 10:07:51 AM

DrD - That's a spectacular chivvis from Ms Cox! Might I suggest serving up tacrows, or apple pie a là crowed?

Colin - Last night's Explainer had me in tears. It's my birthday this week, and that news really did feel like a gift.

Hae and Adnan, and their respective families and friends, have been denied justice for far too long. The sad thing is that there are so many Haes, too many Adnans, all victims of a bloated and corrupt system.

Posted by: Squatch | Nov 10, 2015 6:15:46 AM

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