NEW YORK, JUNE 3 -- Lawyers for indigent defendants facing the death penalty in six Southern states are often ill-trained and less competent than prosecutors and do not get enough state-supplied money to mount an adequate defense, the National Law Journal reported today.
"Indigent defendants on trial for their lives are being frequently represented by ill-trained, unprepared court-appointed lawyers so grossly underpaid they literally cannot afford to do the job they know needs to be done," the legal newspaper said in a report released before its publication Monday.
The report was based on the Journal's investigation into capital punishment cases in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The states have executed 101 of the 129 killed since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Convicted murderer Thomas Baal was executed in Nevada this morning.
Legislation before Congress would limit federal review of state death penalty convictions, and Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist has backed one of the three proposals.
The Journal said trial lawyers who represented death row inmates in those six states had been disbarred, suspended or otherwise disciplined at a rate of three to 46 times the overall discipline rates for those states.
More than half the defense counsels questioned in a survey said they were handling their first capital trial when their clients were convicted and sentenced to death, the report said.
In one case, an oil industry lawyer handled a capital trial as his first criminal case, the newspaper said.
Fee limits on defense representation, such as Mississippi's $1,000 cap, restrict thorough trial preparation, and judges routinely denied defense requests for expert or investigative fees, the Journal said.