Capital cases are cases that, if the defendant is guilty, he or she will face the death penalty. First-degree murder cases, either on grounds of premeditation or cases that based on the felony-murder doctrine are generally capital cases.
Unlike most other criminal cases, which simply go to the State Supreme Court or are resolved with a guilty plea, a capital case is often litigated for ten to fifteen years after the sentence is imposed. Therefore, it is important that the lawyer know the applicable law and properly preserved the defendant’s right. (Bailey v. State) The American Bar Association (ABA) has published Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. A lawyer should follow the guideline to represent the defendants in capital cases. However, a deviation from ABA’s guideline does not mean that the defendant’s constitutional rights are violated.
[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]