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Sent: Friday, February 14, 2003 5:02 PM
Subject: the Alabama Pro Bono Project
Criminal Defense Practice
Alabama pro bono project is one of the most striking examples of the personal dedication and commitment Legal Aid attorneys bring to their work.
Alabama is the only state in the country that does not provide post appeal legal representation or a post-conviction legal resource center for death row prisoners. Dozens of prisoners on Alabama's death row do not have access to lawyers. The volunteer lawyers from The Legal Aid Society who have come together to form the Alabama Pro Bono Project believe that every state â€" even Alabama â€" must be required to make its proof against a vigorous defense before executing its citizens. Rather than to feel powerless in the face of the injustice inherent in this situation, these lawyers draw on the tools they have at their command; time and legal skills. They defend Alabama death row clients on a voluntary basis by taking unpaid leave from their regular duties at Legal Aid, covering their own expenses to the extent they can.
Here are just a few of the ways the Project makes justice accessible to poor defendants in Alabama:
* Legal Aid attorneys show that their clients were inadequately represented at trial. An appropriately prepared defense in a death penalty case is a complex and labor-intensive effort. For instance, a death penalty case in New York may take five months to complete. The Alabama clients were tried in an average of just three days, from the start of the jury selection to the return of a death sentence.
* Attorneys litigate procedural issues that would interfere with the client's ability to take all available appeals. Because they have no right to lawyers following direct appeal, individuals on death row in Alabama do not know they have other post-conviction options. So, for example, by the time one client made his way to The Alabama Pro Bono Project, he had not had a lawyer for two years. Alabama argued in this case that the post-conviction petition we helped this client file was untimely, and that the client should be immediately executed. Lawyers for the Project argued this issue all the way to the United States Supreme Court and prevailed-just hours before the execution was scheduled.
* Project attorneys prepare and present mitigation evidence. A necessary element in any death penalty trial defense is the presentation of facts about the accused or the crime that would suggest the imposition of a lesser penalty. This calls for extensive investigation into the client's background and history, which should then be skillfully presented to the jury. Because this was not done in the trials of any of the Project's clients, Legal Aid attorneys develop this information at the post-conviction stage to show how the clients were prejudiced.
While The Alabama Pro Bono Project is run as much as possible on the contributions of the participating lawyers, it does seek financial assistance in meeting some of the larger out-of-pocket expenses that they cannot cover, such as the cost of investigators and experts. Last year, the Alabama Pro Bono Project represented seven death row clients on a total cash contribution of less than $20,000.
If you want to be a part of this important project by supporting the Alabama Pro Bono Project you can make a donation through our Donate page. Your tax-deductible give will go a long way to ensure that men and women on Alabama's death row get the fair representation to which they are entitled.