Federal Capital Trial Project

The Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel project (“FDPRC”) and the Capital Resource Counsel project (“CRC”) (the “Trial Projects”) are Projects of the Defender Services Office of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.  They assist the federal courts, federal defenders, and appointed counsel in matters related to the defense function in federal capital prosecutions. 

Established in early 1992, the Trial Projects assist federal defenders and courts by identifying and recommending qualified “learned counsel” and co-counsel for defendants facing capital-eligible charges. The Projects also monitor all federal death penalty cases and serve as a national clearinghouse for information which might be helpful to defense counsel appointed in federal capital cases.  

The FDPRC consist of part-time veteran capital defense attorney contractors.  The CRC are full time salaried federal defender attorneys who are available to be appointed as learned counsel in capital cases.  CRC also has a training director, mitigation specialist, and two full time paralegals as part of their Project.  The FDPRC and CRC Projects work hand-in-hand in performing their duties.

A core function of the Trial Projects is to assign a resource counsel who will provide consulting assistance to every defense team representing a federal death-eligible defendant in the country. This Trial Project lawyer provides telephone, video-conference, and on-site consultation which can include:  assistance in identifying and utilizing qualified learned counsel; making referrals to mitigation specialists, investigators, paralegals, defense victim outreach specialists, mental health and other experts, and other defense team members to create a diverse and culturally competent team; assistance with pleadings and legal research, budgeting, preparing written and oral presentations addressing the government’s decision whether or not to seek the death penalty including settlement efforts; and, if necessary, trial preparation, jury selection assistance and courtroom litigation.

Resource Counsel responsibilities also include:

  • Development of capital litigation training programs and materials to assist federal defenders and court-appointed CJA counsel;
  • Responding to judicial inquiries concerning appointment of counsel, case budgeting, and the defense function in federal capital cases;
  • Responding to Congressional inquiries directed to the federal defender system relating to proposed capital punishment legislation; and
  • Maintaining a liaison between the federal public defender system and responsible officials of the Department of Justice regarding the administration of federal death penalty statutes.

The Trial Project produces a vast array of materials related to defending federal capital prosecutions, beginning with the authorization process, available on the secure side of the Project’s website. The Project provides, for example, model pleadings on recurring issues such as defense funding, continuance, jury voir dire, discovery, government mental status exams, severance, penalty phase instructions, etc. These materials are made available at no cost to appointed counsel.