Supreme Court Adopts Amendments to Appoint Capital Case Counsel for Indigent Defendants
Under new rules that took effect Feb. 1, the Ohio Supreme Court has altered some of the qualifications required for court-appointed attorneys who seek appointment by a court to represent indigent defendants in capital cases.
Attorneys who wish to be appointed by a court to represent indigent defendants in capital cases must apply for certification from the Commission on Appointment of Counsel in Capital Cases. To be certified by the commission as trial lead counsel, trial co-counsel, or appellate counsel, attorneys must meet certain qualifications and possess specific practice experience.
Some of the rule changes address trial lead counsel qualifications:
Lead counsel must have experience as lead trial counsel in the trial of at least one capital case or experience as trial co-counsel in the trial of at least two capital cases and at least one of the following types of experience: Experience as “lead counsel” in a jury trial of at least one murder or aggravated murder case, or experience as “lead counsel” in three aggravated or first or second-degree felony jury trials in a common pleas court.
Under the rules, experience as lead counsel in a jury trial of at least one murder or aggravated murder case must have occurred within the past 10 years.
The amendments also expanded the time frame from three to five years for experience as trial lead counsel in three aggravated or first or second degree felony jury trials in a common pleas court.
The amendments also remove experience in 10 or more criminal or civil jury trials, at least three of which were felony jury trials, as qualifying experience for lead counsel.
Here are some of the rule changes that address co-counsel qualifications:
- Similar to the lead counsel provision, new rules would require co-counsel previous experience to have occurred within the last 10 years in at least one murder or aggravated murder trial.
- The amendments expanded the necessary experience for co-counsel to one first or second-degree felony jury trial within the past five years as lead counsel.
- In addition, the amendments expanded the “look-back period” for co-counsel experience – either as lead or co-counsel in at least two felony jury trials, but not civil jury trials in common pleas court – to five years.
Other amendments to the rules:
- Limit credit for death penalty training programs to sessions delivered in person instead of replayed in digital or electronic format.
- Require a certified attorney to notify the client, the court, and the commission when his or her certification lapses.
- Repeal the current Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio 20 through 20.05 and relocate them into a new separate set called the Rules for Appointment of Counsel in Capital Cases.
The rule amendments adopted represent the culmination of several years worth of work and are not related to the recent Rule 20 recommendations contained in the final report issued by the Joint Task Force to Review the Administration of Ohio’s Death Penalty.