The Center for Death Penalty Litigation is a non-profit law firm that provides direct representation to inmates on North Carolina’s death row, as well as consulting with and training attorneys who practice capital litigation across the state. CDPL’s commitment to representing indigent and disadvantaged defendants just as vigorously as corporate lawyers defend their highest-paying clients has saved the lives of many who faced execution. In addition to representing individual clients, CDPL spearheads litigation that addresses systemic injustices and educates the public about the death penalty. CDPL has been a leading force in dramatically reducing the number of executions in North Carolina, and has cast light on the arbitrariness and unfairness of our state’s capital punishment system.
In 2018, for the second year in a row, juries imposed no new death sentences in North Carolina. This marks the third year of the past four without any death sentences, and the first time in the state’s modern history that juries have rejected the death penalty for two consecutive years. The state has not executed anyone since 2006. “The death penalty in North Carolina has become a relic,” said Gretchen Engel, executive director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation and a defense attorney for death row prisoners. “Very few district attorneys seek death anymore and, when they do, juries reject it. The people of our state are speaking very clearly. We no longer need the death penalty to keep North Carolina safe.”
On Nov. 9, CDPL client James Morgan was removed from death row after his attorneys argued that Morgan never got the fair trial to which the Constitution entitles him. The jury that sentenced Morgan to death 19 years ago wasn’t told about his his severe and lifelong brain damage from three separate traumatic brain injuries, beginning in childhood. This is exactly the type of evidence that typically persuades juries to choose life instead of death. With the approval of Buncombe District Attorney Todd Williams, Morgan will now serve life without parole. Read more from one of his attorneys, Elizabeth Hambourger.
CDPL’s newest report, released Oct. 9, reveals that the vast majority of N.C.’s more than 140 death row inmates were tried before key reforms to the capital punishment system — reforms that were intended to ensure fair trials and protect innocent defendants. These death sentences are a relic of the 1990s, when juries sent dozens of people a year to death row under laws and standards that are now obsolete. Today, North Carolina has all but abandoned the death penalty, yet these men and women who were sentenced in another era remain on death row. This in-depth report takes you inside their cases.
Learn more about the death penalty. For a fuller listing, go to our Links page:
- N.C. Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
- N.C. Advocates for Justice
- Death Penalty Information Center
See Our Impact
CDPL’s staff has halted wrongful executions, helped free innocent people from death row, and exposed systemic injustices. Learn more about the work that has made CDPL a leader in addressing unfairness in capital punishment.