ACCR has emerged as a reputable asset in the Atlantic region for defense teams and their clients, legislators, public officials, criminal justice reform assemblies, death penalty advocacy groups, media outlets, and concerned citizens of Pennsylvania, and across the entire United States.
Before ACCR’s inception, the Atlantic region lacked an institution with the capacity to coordinate the interchange of information crucial to support defense teams and their efforts. ACCR has firmly rooted itself as a key resource center for defense teams to seek consultation in Pennsylvania for capital cases as well as cases involving juveniles facing life without parole sentences. Defense attorneys and mitigation specialists turn to ACCR’s experienced and highly qualified staff for assistance at any and all stages of these cases. ACCR offers case-specific consultation in all aspects of litigation in death penalty and juvenile life without parole cases. Specifically, ACCR is proud of the role it has played in the dramatic reduction of death sentences in Pennsylvania.
ACCR staff recognizes the crucial role mitigation plays in the defense of a capital or juvenile life without parole case. Through consultation, trainings, and referrals, ACCR works to ensure that each defendant is receiving the most effective representation possible in their case. Mitigation investigation is a non-legal service involving a comprehensive examination of every aspect of the client’s background. This rich social history is the foundation for a compelling and humanizing portrayal of the client. ACCR staff has worked to improve both the quality and quantity of mitigation specialists available for these cases. ACCR Co-Director Dana Cook is a nationally recognized Mitigation Specialist with twenty years of experience in conducting mitigation investigations.
As an independent organization, ACCR has initiated case-specific and systemic litigation to improve the standard of capital defense in Pennsylvania. In 2011, ACCR made headlines as it led a case to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, arguing that capital cases in Philadelphia were so severely under-resourced that defendants (all indigent and almost all of color) facing execution were essentially defending themselves without the aid of counsel. As a response to ACCR’s litigation, the Philadelphia administrative courts raised the fees for capital attorneys.
While these fees are an improvement over the flat fee schedule previously paid to defense teams, they are nonetheless woefully inadequate. In short, there is still much litigation needed to create a level playing field for capital defendants and sentencing advocacy for juveniles facing the possibility of life without parole in Pennsylvania, and ACCR staff looks forward to a continuing involvement in these efforts. Co-Director Marc Bookman, an attorney in the Homicide Unit of the Philadelphia Defender Association for 17 years before forming ACCR, is a national leader in the field of capital defense and juvenile sentencing advocacy.
ACCR organizes and conducts the “Bring Your Own Case” (BYOC) training program for capital defense teams in Pennsylvania. These three-day conferences are designed to address the specific challenges presented by each defense team’s actual pending death penalty case. Participants work closely with an expert faculty of nationally renowned capital defense attorneys and mitigation specialists in large group plenary sessions and small group workshops. Training sessions tackle topics from brainstorming the case and effective teamwork to investigation and presentation of mitigating evidence.
Led by ACCR, the faculty assists capital defense teams by helping them integrate the guilt and penalty phases, navigate and present mental health issues, acknowledge the significance of race and culture in any capital prosecution, negotiate pleas and settlements, and obtain adequate time and resources for effective representation. In an effort to encourage participation, and keeping in mind that these defense teams are often terribly under-resourced, ACCR hosts these trainings free of charge for defense teams.
In addition to BYOC trainings, ACCR staff plays an integral role in virtually every capital conference in Pennsylvania, and many across the country as well. ACCR’s participation in these trainings has helped elevate the standard of capital defense, providing guidance to capital teams for better communication with clients and negotiations with prosecutors, as well as more thorough investigations. These trainings are extremely popular, and their merit is evidenced by a steadily lower rate of death sentences.
Additionally, ACCR staff have been involved in statewide as well as national trainings for defense teams handling juvenile life without parole cases. Drawing upon their years of experience in training lawyers and mitigation specialists in the areas of capital case mitigation investigation, ACCR staff are active participants in training lawyers and mitigation specialists handling the sentencing hearings of the 500 juveniles sentenced to life without parole in Pennsylvania.
communications, Outreach & Advocacy
We believe capital punishment and juveniles serving life without parole sentences are human rights issues. Indeed, race and wealth disparities in the application of the death penalty have led many scholars to conclude that the institution has its roots in an earlier and shameful era of lynching. Through constant communications efforts, ACCR advocates to change the conversation around the death penalty and juvenile life without parole sentences.
ACCR commentary appears in op-eds and essays in media outlets such as The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlantic and Mother Jones, and ACCR’s blog- A View from the Atlantic Center - is an unfiltered take on all capital punishment developments. Tony Auth, the legendary political cartoonist, crafted his sketches from details in ACCR’s cases; our 2011 front page spread in The Inquirer changed the way capital defense teams were financed in Philadelphia.
ACCR benefits from partnerships with organizations that work toward criminal justice reform. It has engaged with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Juvenile Law Center, the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Southern Center for Human Rights, the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project, Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and many others. ACCR is proud to be an important partner with these outstanding organizations.