The United States Supreme Court maintains that a jury's vote for a death sentence can embody the community's individualized moral judgment on a particular person. But what if lawyers in a capital case cannot produce an authentic portrait of the defendant for the jurors to evaluate? What if this is as true of good lawyers as it is of bad lawyers? If lawyers cannot provide this portrait, who will? What if an "authentic" portrait does not exist? Without such a portrait, isn't a reliable, individualized capital sentencing process an illusion?
When good death penalty lawyers argue against the death penalty they begin and end with the fact that most death row inmates have been subjected to the services of very bad lawyers indeed. Stephen Bright, the Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, epitomizes this approach in his essay, Counsel for the Poor: The Death Sentence Not for the Worst Crime but for the Worst Lawyer. Bright presents a Homeric catalogue of condemned inmates who were represented by drunken lawyers, by sleeping lawyers, by crazy lawyers, by lawyers who referred to their client as "a little ole nigger man," and by lawyers whose incompetence amounted to virtual disorientation.
James M. Doyle,
The Lawyers' Art: "Representation" in Capital Cases,
Yale J.L. & Human.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol8/iss2/3