Federal Capital Trial Project

The Federal Capital Trial Project (or “Trial Project”) of the Defender Services Office of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts is comprised of the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel project (“FDPRC”) and the Capital Resource Counsel project (“CRC”). The Trial Project is staffed by experienced federal capital litigators who work in close coordination to provide consultation, training, and assistance to counsel and courts to improve the quality of representation and the cost-effectiveness of defense services in federal capital prosecution cases. 

Established in early 1992, a core function of the Trial Project is to support and assist court-appointed defense counsel in federal capital cases. To do this, the Trial Project assigns a FDPRC or CRC attorney to work with the defense team in every potential federal death penalty case as a “resource counsel.” Resource Counsel are not counsel of record, and their role is to provide advice, assistance, and helpful information and resources to the team. The FDPRC resource counsel are part-time contractors who are often appointed to serve as death-qualified (“learned”) counsel outside their role with the Project. The CRC attorneys are full-time salaried federal defender staff who often serve as “learned” counsel as part of their Project responsibilities. This Trial Project lawyer provides on-site and remote consultation which can include assistance in:

  • identifying learned counsel;
  • making referrals for experts, mitigation specialists, investigators, paralegals, defense victim outreach specialists, and other defense team members; 
  • conducting legal research, providing model pleadings, and preparing pleadings; 
  • crafting written and oral arguments addressing the government’s decision whether or not to seek the death penalty; and 
  • ultimately, if necessary, all aspects of capital trial and sentencing.

The Project monitors all federal death penalty cases and serves as a national clearinghouse for information helpful to defense counsel appointed in federal capital cases. The Project also responds to inquiries from the federal courts and from Congress regarding all aspects of the defense function in federal capital prosecutions. The Trial Project also:

  • assists Federal Defenders and courts in recruiting defense counsel “learned in the law applicable to capital cases” for appointment under 18 U.S.C. § 3005;
  • supports efforts to recruit diverse capital team members and to support these new team members within the capital defense community to promote their success and retention;
  • assists the Defender Services Office of the AOUSC, in responding to judicial inquiries concerning the defense function, case management, and case budgeting in federal capital cases;
  • develops capital litigation training programs and materials to assist federal defenders and court- appointed private counsel;
  • maintains a website that provides access to a wide array of materials relevant to the defense of federal capital cases;
  • responds to Congressional inquiries directed to the federal defender system concerning proposed capital punishment legislation and oversight; and
  • serves as a point of contact between the federal defender system and the Department of Justice regarding the administration of federal death penalty statutes.

Our web site, https://fdprc.capdefnet.org/, contains helpful information for those involved in defending federal capital cases. It includes litigation guides on crucial issues (including sample pleadings), statistics, and other helpful information regarding district court practices in federal capital cases, opinion summaries, and other important resources. A significant amount of information on the web site is not accessible to the general public. In order to access the private side, click on “login” and “request access now.” You will then receive a password within a day or so. Once you have access to the private side, we strongly recommend that you download the Outline of Federal Death Penalty Case Law, a comprehensive outline addressing issues of special applicability to death penalty cases in federal court and covering all Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions in federal capital cases and relevant district court decisions.

Contact information for the members of the Trial Project may be found on our website at: https://fdprc.capdefnet.org/overview/about-us/177.

Federal Capital Trial Project Mitigation Specialist

The Federal Capital Trial Project Mitigation Specialist assists federal defender staff, CJA counsel, and members of the Federal Capital Trial Project identify and retain appropriate, culturally competent mitigation specialists for new cases, leads efforts to train, mentor, and provide support to mitigation specialists in federal capital trial level cases, provides task-specific support to federal capital trial teams on a wide variety of mitigation issues, and works to increase the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of the federal capital mitigation specialist community.

Defense Victim Outreach Coordinator

The Victim Outreach Coordinator provides victim outreach assistance to federal capital cases nationwide, assisting Federal Defender offices, FDPRC, CRC, 2254 & 2255 projects by consulting, providing referrals of victim liaisons, conducting victim outreach trainings and continuing to educate capital defense attorneys about the values and principles of defense-initiated victim outreach.

Client Relation & Life Support Project

The Client Relation & Life Support Project assists capital defense teams in working with difficult clients, who are reluctant to have mitigation investigated, reluctant to seek life sentences, or reluctant to take plea bargains for sentences less than death.  Created in 2008, staffed by Wilbert Rideau and other carefully selected people -- all of whom have made meaningful lives serving time in prison – the project has since succeeded in helping clients choose life paths in most of the cases in which it has been involved.

Federal Capital Appellate Resource Counsel

The Federal Capital Appellate Resource Counsel Project was created by the Defender Services Committee of the Judicial Conference in 2008. The Project’s mission is to help courts and federal defenders identify qualified counsel for federal death-penalty appeals, train and consult with assigned counsel, and provide direct representation in some cases. In addition, the Project helps FDPRC and CRC consult with trial lawyers in federal capital cases on legal issues. The Federal Capital Appellate Resource Counsel is Barry Fisher.  The Project's other attorneys are Sean Bolser and Jerome Del Pino.