NACDL on the Death Penalty
"The death penalty is barbaric. And I think we as a society need to come face-to-face with that. If we’re not willing to face up to the cruelty, we ought not be doing it."
- Alex Kozinski, United State Court of Appeals Judge for the Ninth Circuit
NACDL opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and supports reforms to ensure that innocent persons are not executed. Purely retributive in nature — countless studies show that it does not deter crime — the death penalty is unjust, uncivilized, and inconsistent with the fallibility of our justice system. Since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1973, more than 1,510 people have been executed in the United States. During the same time, more than 165 people sentenced to death have been exonerated. Many others have had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment because of serious doubts about their guilt. And some have been tragically executed despite serious questions concerning their innocence.
Because we believe that no amount of tinkering will rescue the death penalty from its inherent flaws, NACDL supports legislation to abolish the death penalty. View NACDL's Board Resolution Calling for a Moratorium on and Abolition of the Death Penalty.
State specific NACDL board resolutions related to the death penalty:
2012 - Endorsing Proposition 34 to End the Death Penalty in California
2011 - Calling for Abolition of the Death Penalty in Illinois
2007 - Commending New Jersey Legislature's Death Penalty Study Commission
Why I Oppose the Death Penalty
See NACDL Executive Director, Norman L. Reimer's interview about why he is opposed to the death penalty.
- March 2021, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed a bill repealing the death penalty, making Virginia the 23rd state, and the first southern state, to abolish or overturn the death penalty.
- March 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed into law a bill repealing the death penalty, making Colorado the 22nd state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to abolish or overturn the death penalty.
- May 2019, the New Hampshire legislature overrode Governor Sununu's veto of its legislation repealing the death penalty, making New Hampshire the 21st state in the nation to abolish or overturn the death penalty.
- March 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom made history, signing an executive order placing a moratorium on the death penalty in California, which has the largest number of people - 737 - on death row in the country.
- October 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously declared the state’s death penalty unconstitutional, making it the 20th state to abolish the death penalty.
- February 2017, the Supreme Court reversed a death sentence for a man in Texas. The Supreme Court found that when race was infused into the proceedings it acknowledged that a capital sentence could not be enforced due to flawed testimony. Read the decision here.
State Death Penalty Reforms & Legislative Tracking
Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C. have abolished the death penalty, while an additional four states have a governor-issued moratorium. View NACDL’s legislative report below to review legislation currently under consideration. Also, consider joining NACDL’s State Criminal Justice Network (SCJN) to exchange information, share resources, and develop strategies for repealing the death penalty and enacting other pressing reforms.
On March 3, 2021, Senator Durbin (D-IL) introduced S.582, the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act. The bill prohibits the imposition of the death penalty for a violation of federal law and provides that anyone sentenced to death before the enactment of the bill must be resentenced. To learn more about federal death penalty legislation, visit NACDL's Legislative Action Center and click on 'View key legislation' under the heading 'Find Legislation.'
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Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence: A Trial Strategy Guide
NACDL’s Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence will assist criminal defense practitioners in scoring points when cross-examining forensic experts in cases involving DNA and biological evidence. This resource contains thousands of questions that will help defense lawyers cross-examine challenging witnesses without reinventing the wheel with each new case. It includes pattern questions that can be used to dominate prosecution DNA experts and level the playing field at trial.
Cross-Examination of the Analyst in Drug Prosecutions (2nd Ed.) By James M. Shellow
Now in its second edition with some new material, James M. Shellow’s book offers what its title promises: ways of thinking about cross-examining the forensic analysts in drug cases. But the book is so much more than that. It offers a look inside the mind of one of the finest cross-examiners and defense lawyers the United States has produced in the last seventy years. This small book can inspire and direct you in making big changes in the way you defend your clients and think about the entire project of trying any case.
Justice For All, Justice Now White T-Shirt (Women’s)
This custom, vintage-faded NACDL t-shirt is 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon weighing 5.2 oz. and is lightwieght, flexible and soft, providing maximum comfort. It features the "Justice For All, Justice Now" slogan and Lady Liberty image on the front, with the NACDL logo on the back. Currently available in both men's and women's sizes in both black and white colors. View the full line-up of colors and sizes on our online store, as well as our other popular and best-selling t-shirt designs at: nacdl.org/store.
Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection - CD-ROM
NACDL’s Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection is the sweeping culmination of every single article of written materials ever published from each installment of NACDL's annual "Defending Modern Drug Cases" seminar. Totaling over 12,000 pages, this vast collection includes 12+ years of motions, briefs, reports, outlines, transcripts, case citations, scholarly articles, powerpoints and other written commentaries. This collection provides trial strategies and tactics you can immediately apply to your current cases.
Mental Illness & the Law: Addressing and Litigating Behavioral Health Disorders in Criminal Cases
Whether it is insanity, impairment, a disorder, or adolescent brain development; mental health and intellectual competence issues affect pretrial supervision, trial and sentencing, and your chances of successfully advocating for your impaired client. This training provides ideas and proven solutions to assist you in advocating for your client during trial, whether it be insanity defenses, jury selection, cross of expert witnesses, persuasion, or mitigation at sentencing.
- "Nevada Press Association Sues to Ensure Access to Execution,"
- "U.S. Won’t Seek Death Penalty in 7 Cases, Signaling a Shift Under Biden,"
- "10 facts about the death penalty in the U.S.,"
News Release ~ 03/23/2020
Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Applauds Repeal of the Death Penalty in Colorado -- Washington, DC (March 23, 2020) – This afternoon, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed into law a bill repealing the death penalty in Colorado, making Colorado the 22nd state in the United States, in addition to the District of Columbia, to abolish or overturn the death penalty.
News Release ~ 05/30/2019
NACDL Applauds Abolition of the Death Penalty in New Hampshire -- Washington, DC (May 30, 2019) – This morning, the New Hampshire legislature overrode Governor Sununu’s veto of its legislation repealing the death penalty, making New Hampshire the last state in New England, and the 21st state in the nation, to abolish or overturn the death penalty. Earlier this session, the New Hampshire House and Senate had both passed legislation to repeal the death penalty by veto-proof majorities.
News Release ~ 05/02/2019
Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Calls for Tennessee to #TestTheDNA in the Sedley Alley Case -- Nashville, TN (May 2, 2019) – In 2006, the State of Tennessee executed Sedley Alley for murder in a case his attorneys maintain had the “tell-tale signs of a wrongful conviction and DNA evidence that could have proved his innocence.” Yesterday, Sedley’s daughter April Alley announced that she is petitioning the criminal court in Shelby County, Tennessee, for post-conviction DNA testing in her father’s case.