Trial level representationThe
LCAC represents indigent individuals who are charged with
capital crimes in Louisiana at the trial level, in both state
and federal court. The LCAC strives to begin representation of
these individuals at the first possible opportunity post-offense
so as not to lose the chance to assert critical rights and
preserve relevant evidence; the LCAC has developed a vigorous
pre-indictment advocacy practice.
The LCAC has also developed a thorough and exacting motions
practice, involving the filing of dozens of motions, the holding
of multiple evidentiary hearings regarding both critical
evidence in the case and the fairness of the criminal justice
system, and the filing of multiple applications for supervisory
writs (interlocutory appeals) with appellate courts.
Our representation at trial is client-centered, focused on our
clients’ needs and expressed desires and the manner in which our
clients view and understand their own cases. We respect our
client’s autonomy regarding the conduct of their case.
Investigation and Mitigation
Our representation includes an exhaustive and creative
investigation of the crime charged, the criminal justice
procedures to which our client is subject, our client’s entire
life history, and any other factors that may conceivably be
mitigating in the case.
Mitigation investigation is specific to capital cases. A death
penalty trial contains two phases: the guilt phase, where the
jury is asked to determine guilt or innocence, and then a
separate penalty phase should the jury return with a guilty
verdict. During the penalty phase, defense attorneys are
permitted to present mitigating evidence to show why their
client should not be sentenced to death.
An investigation of a capital defendant's life almost always
reveals a history of trauma, deprivation, abuse, and/or mental
disability. LCAC attorneys and investigators have developed an
expertise in mitigation investigation, which includes issues as
far-flung as environmental toxins, the history of racist
practices in particular geographic areas, and the failure of
governmental agencies in relation to our clients and their
Appellate and Post-conviction
Besides trial-level representation, the LCAC also represents
indigent clients on direct appeal in the Louisiana Supreme
Court, in state post-conviction proceedings (in Texas and
Mississippi), and in federal habeas proceedings following both
state and federal death sentences. Pursuing all of these forms
of representation simultaneously means that the office stays
abreast of problems across the capital system. We are also able
to use our understanding of federal habeas law to inform our own
trial practice and our consultation with other trial and
Consultation and training
The LCAC also acts as a resource office, consulting with public
defenders handling capital cases around Louisiana. It has
assisted dozens of lawyers in the region at every stage,
particularly in those parishes where the death penalty is used
most aggressively. The LCAC assists with case theory
development, pre-trial litigation, jury selection, Atkins
litigation, penalty phase preparation, and mid-trial writ
LCAC lawyers also conduct frequent trainings for capital counsel
around the state. Recent trainings have focused on jury
selection, defending parents accused of killing their children,
Capital Jury Project data, competency determinations, Atkins v.
Virginia, eyewitness identification expert testimony,
ballistics, and mitigation.
The LCAC also authors reports, studies and manuals for the
benefit of those practicing criminal law or working in the field
of criminal justice policy.
Impact litigation and advocacy
In addition to its direct representation and consult work, the
LCAC pursues individual legal issues and projects designed to
have a broader impact on capital litigation. Currently these
issues include racial discrimination in jury selection, racial
discrimination in charging practices, and litigation regarding
the intellectually disabled, seriously mentally ill, and those
defendants not competent to stand trial.