The Champion

March 2007 , Page 61 

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Mitigation Investigation

By Russell Stetler

Read more Capital Cases columns.

Mitigation Investigation: A Duty That Demands Expert Help But Can’t Be Delegated

For over 30 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has made individualized sentencing a core constitutional requirement in capital cases. In Woodson v. North Carolina,1 the Court captured the breadth of potential mitigating evidence by referring simply to the “diverse frailties of humankind.”2 A decade later in Skipper v. South Carolina, the Court made clear that there are no temporal limits to the pre-offense time frame: redemption and “good adjustment” in jail should be considered even though they “would not relate specifically to petitioner’s culpability for the crime he committed.”3 

The 21st century Court has reiterated both points. In Tennard v. Dretke,4 the Court emphasized that no nexus is required between mitigation and the capital offense, and that there are virtually no limits on what the defense can introduce (noting the low threshold for relevance and defining mitigation as what

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