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 1976, more than 1,576 people have been executed in the United States. During the same time, more than 195 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 Former 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.
- 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.
State Death Penalty Reform
Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C. have abolished the death penalty, while an additional three states have a governor-issued moratorium. NACDL has engaged in state legislative efforts across the country to abolish the death penalty. 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.
Cross-Examination Trial Pack
NACDL’s new Cross-Examination Trial Pack includes three of our best-selling Cross-Examination resources: “Damage Control: Situational Cross-Examination Techniques Trial Guide”, "Ultimate Cross 2.0: Audio Recordings & Written Materials" and "Sample Cross-Examination Questions."
This masterful collection of cross-examination resources provide countless tips, techniques and strategies for a variety of criminal case-specific scenarios. Learn to cross-examine a variety of trial witnesses!
Death Investigation: Forensic Pathology in the Courtroom and Cause & Manner of Death (2022)
This unique program provides criminal defense lawyers with an accurate and clear overview of forensic pathology and the countless factors to consider in a death investigation and will methodically explain what happens during an autopsy to determine cause and manner of death.
You'll uncover the different types of medicolegal death investigations, what to request from your MDI expert, quality benchmarks for accreditation and certification, guidelines and standards, common terminology and frequently asked questions.
The Psychology of Persuasion & Storytelling for Criminal Defense Lawyers
This Trial Resource Guide is a masterful collection of practical tips, techniques and strategies focused solely on using the arts and sciences of persuasion to improve your storytelling skills at trial.
You'll learn how to master the ability to communicate with juries, deliver powerful openings and closings, perform convincing cross-examinations, use effective courtroom choreography and non-verbal communication, identify and develop the optimal theme and theory for your case, and offer compelling arguments during mitigation and sentencing.
Zealous Advocacy in Sexual Assault & Child Victims Cases (2022)
Defending charges of sexual assault and child abuse can be daunting — but with the right tools, it doesn’t have to be.
Every year, NACDL identifies the hottest topics and most pressing issues when defending these cases, and brings-in nationally-renowned lawyers and experts to help you prepare for battle. This year’s 13th Annual Defending Sex Cases training program is our best yet; packed with topics and speakers you won’t want to miss!
- "Death penalty for child rape goes into effect in Florida,"
- "She’s the only woman on death row in Louisiana. Will the state grant her mercy?,"
- "Alabama inmate opposes being ‘test subject’ for new nitrogen execution method,"
The Death Penalty and Sentencing: Applying Lessons Learned
Ep.56 – Forthcoming Documentary: "In The Executioner’s Shadow"
Ep.56 – Forthcoming Documentary: "In The Executioner’s Shadow" -- In this episode, we hear from American University School of Communication Professor Rick Stack about a forthcoming, very important documentary concerning the death penalty in America, entitled In The Executioner’s Shadow. This documentary is co-produced by Rick Stack and Professor Maggie Burnette Stogner, also of the American University School of Communication. And the project has been made possible through the support of American University. On Wednesday, April 11, the American University School of Communication will be hosting the first pre-screening of the film. The event is open to the public. Following the pre-screening, there will be a panel discussion. The panel will consist of the three primary characters in the documentary as well as both filmmakers and Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Learn more about NACDL. Ivan J. Dominguez, host. Music West Bank (Lezet) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 and Walkabout (Digital Primitives) / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.
Advocacy Call on California Death Penalty Initiatives
November 2016, California voters considered two competing death penalty initiatives. Unfortunately, California’s Proposition 62 which would have repealed the death penalty and replace it with life without possibility of parole, failed 54% to 46%.
On Wednesday, September 14, 2016 NACDL’s State Criminal Justice Network held an advocacy call on Proposition 62, which would have abolished the death penalty, and Proposition 66, which will maintain the death penalty, but has the potential to cost the state even more and overburden local court resources. A recent report, “California Votes 2016: An Analysis of the Competing Death Penalty Ballot Initiatives,” outlines the current state of the death penalty system and analyzes how each initiative will work in practice.
Find out more:
Learn more about NACDL's State Criminal Justice Network. Angelyn C. Frazer-Giles, Host. Doug Shaner, production supervisor. Music I Will! Rise Above (Jared C. Balogh) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.
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.