Austin Sarat


The struggle against capital punishment goes on every day in courtrooms across the United States. On the front lines are criminal defense lawyers who try to prevent the initial imposition of death sentences by judges and juries. When that effort fails, the struggle is carried on by a small cadre of lawyers who specialize in providing legal representation in appellate and postconviction proceedings for persons on death row. For much of the criminal defense bar, the legal work of opposing capital punishment is neither ideological nor political. For most specialized appellate death penalty lawyers, however, their legal work is part of an ideologically motivated campaign against capital punishment. They carry on that campaign by representing individual clients; sometimes they use an individual case to bring a broader challenge to some aspect of the capital sentencing system, or even to attack the constitutionality of the death penalty itself. More often, however, they studiously avoid such frontal assaults in the hope of saving one life at a time.