Capital Punishment and Postconvictions Proceedings

Credits: 3.00
Faculty: Ursula Bentele

This course focuses on two topics: the law governing imposition of the death penalty in the United States and the procedures involved in securing state and federal postconviction relief, in both capital and non-capital cases. After briefly discussing the history and development of capital punishment in this country, we will examine closely the Supreme Courts jurisprudence, primarily under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, as it affects the substantive and procedural implementation of capital sentencing schemes in place in the states that still employ this punishment. We consider the impact of race, the treatment of juveniles and those with mental disabilities, and an international perspective on the death penalty. We then study the progress of a capital case from jury selection through the guilt and penalty phases of the trial. Finally, we shift to postconviction proceedings, looking at direct appeals and collateral challenges to convictions and sentences (including but not limited to death sentences), as well as the clemency process. As the federal habeas corpus remedy is increasingly limited by Congress and the Supreme Court, state postconviction proceedings have taken on a larger role, and we will discuss the most significant aspects of both potential avenues for ensuring that convictions have been obtained in compliance with constitutional requirements.

Grading and Method of Evaluation

Letter grade with pass/fail option. Students are graded on short written assignments and a final exam.