Capital Defense

Inside the Lives of America's Death Penalty Lawyers

304 pages

June, 2019

ISBN: 9781479873753



Add to Cart Available: 5/17/2019

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Jon B. Gould is Professor of Public Affairs and Law at American University in Washington, D.C. He is the author of The Innocence Commission: Preventing Wrongful Convictions and Restoring the Criminal Justice System.

All books by Jon B. Gould

Maya Pagni Barak is Assistant Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice and an affiliate of Women’s and Gender Studies ​at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. 

All books by Maya Pagni Barak

The unsung heroes who defend the accused from the ultimate punishment
What motivates someone to make a career out of defending some of the worst suspected killers of our time?  In Capital Defense, Jon B. Gould and Maya Pagni Barak give us a glimpse into the lives of lawyers who choose to work in the darkest corner of our criminal justice system: death penalty cases. Based on in-depth personal interviews with a cross-section of the nation’s top capital defense teams, the book explores the unusual few who voluntarily represent society’s “worst of the worst.”
With a compassionate and careful eye, Gould and Barak chronicle the experiences of American lawyers, who—like soldiers or surgeons—operate under the highest of stakes, where verdicts have the power to either “take death off the table” or put clients on “the conveyor belt towards death.” These lawyers are a rare breed in a field that is otherwise seen as dirty work and in a system that is overburdened, under-resourced, and overshadowed by social, cultural, and political pressures.
Examining the ugliest side of our criminal justice system, Capital Defense offers an up-close perspective on the capital litigation process and its impact on the people who participate in it. 


  • "A thoughtful, immensely readable, and deeply researched book about the extraordinary lawyers who represent the condemned in the United States. The authors have made a significant contribution to sociology, criminology, legal ethics, and the growing scholarly work on professional identity. This book captures the world of capital defense like nothing I’ve seen before: the courage and humility of the lawyers; the grimness of the setting; the moral urgency of the work. The capital defenders whose voices ring throughout this book are inspiring. They are fighting the good fight for the most desperate and despised among usin the most challenging and chilling of contexts. You can feel their passion, pathos, and pride of these lawyers long after you finish the book."

    —Abbe Smith, author of Case of a Lifetime: A Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Story