FIU law grant to train defense lawyers handling capital cases

Florida International University’s College of Law has received a grant to help improve the quality and effectiveness of defense lawyers handling capital cases.

Florida is the second state in the nation in both the number of people sentenced to death and the number of executions.

The law school’s Death Penalty Clinic, through its Florida Center for Capital Representation (FCCR), will spend the next two years providing education and consultation to lawyers who are representing clients facing the death penalty as a result of a $620,000 grant from the

Themis Fund, a Proteus Fund initiative. The Themis Fund is aimed at abolishing the death penalty. The FIU College of Law is the only Florida law school working on this effort.

“Our professors will be assisting lawyers in specific research and investigations, and training future lawyers on how to properly represent someone facing the death penalty,” said R. Alexander Acosta, dean of the FIU College of Law. “The law school will act as a ‘measuring stick’ of what is effective representation.”

FIU law school students, under the supervision of the law school faculty, will learn first-hand how to manage capital punishment cases. Students will work alongside practicing lawyers on the cases, pleadings, motions, and will help interview witnesses and clients.

“The goal is to improve attorneys’ investigation skills and teach them how to create mitigating profiles on behalf of the client,” said Professor Stephen Harper, who is the supervising attorney for the Death Penalty Clinic and who will lead the training program.

“We will also teach them how to present powerful and compelling arguments, how to get their client to plea, when necessary, and how to preserve the record for appeal,” he said. “The training will include jury selection and how to integrate the first phase of a capital case with the penalty phase.”

For more information on the Death Penalty Clinic and how to participate, call 305-348-4242 or send email to Stephen Harper at

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