On November 12, Washington and Lee law professor David Bruck will speak in Atlanta at the National Symposium on the Modern Death Penalty in America. Former President Jimmy Carter will open the American Bar Association-sponsored event, which will feature many special issue panels.
Prof. Bruck’s panel is titled “Professionalism: The Role of the Courts, Prosecutors, and Defenders in the Death Penalty System,” and will also include recently retired Sixth Circuit Judge Boyce Martin, former Texas Governor Mark White, and exonerated Texas death row inmate Anthony Graves.
Washington and Lee law professor David Bruck will travel to Tokyo, Japan this month to help teach a day-and-a-half seminar for Japanese capital defense attorneys on mental health issues, false confessions, and sentencing fact-investigation in death penalty cases. He will be joined by a U.S. psychologist and a staff attorney from the American Bar Association.
The seminar, titled “The Protection of the Vulnerable: an Effective Defense, is being sponsored by the International Justice Project (IJP) and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. The seminar is intended to offer an opportunity to discuss the role of a defense lawyer in capital cases and the challenges they face. Practicing attorneys will learn about the challenges faced by defenders in other countries and some of the tools they have used to expand and strengthen the role of the capital defense lawyer.
Defenders also will learn how to be more effective advocates, and the special skills needed to effectively represent vulnerable groups such as the mentally retarded, juveniles, the mentally ill, and those facing a possible death sentence.
Prof. Bruck directs W&L Law’s capital defense clinic, the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse. Prior to coming to W&L, he practiced criminal law in South Carolina for 28 years, and specialized in the defense of capital cases at the trial, appellate and post-conviction stages. Over the course of his career, he has served as Richland County (Columbia, S.C.) Public Defender, as Chief Attorney of the South Carolina Office of Appellate Defense, and since 1992 as Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel to the federal defender system nationwide.
W&L Professor David Bruck recently participated in oral arguments before the South Carolina Supreme Court on behalf of his client, Billy Wayne Cope. The Herald of Rock Hill, S.C. covered the proceedings in an article on November 13, 2012. Here is an excerpt:
The fate of Billy Wayne Cope , convicted of raping and killing his own 12-year-old daughter in a 2001 crime that he confessed to but claims he did not commit, now rests with the S.C. Supreme Court .
Cope’s lawyer, David Bruck , claimed defiantly Tuesday to the state’s highest court that Cope “did not get a fair trial” in 2004. Bruck said the other man convicted in the crime, a sexual predator named James Edward Sanders , is the sole monster.
. . .
The Supreme Court , which spent about 45 minutes grilling Bruck and Zelenka, made no decision Tuesday. A decision could be reached in weeks or months.
. . .
Only Bruck, Zelenka and the five justices spoke. The Supreme Court hearing was a legal fistfight, with the justices repeatedly interrupting the lawyers and demanding answers about the confessions and more. It will take a majority – three of the five justices – to overturn any conviction and potentially order a new trial.
Nobody disputes that Cope was home with his three daughters when Amanda, the oldest, was brutally attacked.
. . .
In the hearing, the justices first heard from Bruck, the Virginia law professor who specializes in claims of wrongful convictions. In 2004, the trial judge refused to allow Cope’s defense attorneys to tell the jury about all of Sanders’ previous rapes and break-ins. Not being able to tell the jury that Sanders was a serial sexual predator, Bruck argued, gutted the defense case.
. . .
“To say that was a fair trial…That simply was not true,” Bruck stated.
The justices then turned to Zelenka, from the attorney general’s office, who claimed that the other crimes Sanders committed were not “sufficiently similar” and, therefore, should have stayed out of the trial. The trial judge’s decision in 2004 not to allow the jury to consider Sanders’ other crimes was “a harmless error,” Zelenka claimed.
But Bruck pounced, describing that claim as “a retreat” by prosecutors who fought to keep Sanders’ sexual deviance away from the jury.
“There is no way that this was harmless,” Bruck argued.
The justices were clearly concerned about the evidence excluded in the 2004 trial. Justice Costa Pleicones stated that excluding some of the evidence “deprived Mr. Cope the opportunity to present a defense.”
David Bruck is a Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse at Washington & Lee University School of Law.
Each year, the W&L Law chapter of the American Constitution Society sponsors a Supreme Court Preview, where law faculty discuss some of the key cases on the U.S. Supreme Court docket for the upcoming term. During the panel discussion, W&L professors frame the important issues of the case and explain the routes the cases took through the lower courts before being accepted for review by the Court.
This year’s preview is Tuesday, Oct 19, at 6:30 p.m. in the Millhiser Moot Court Room, Sydney Lewis Hall. Presenting during the event will be:
- Professor Brian Murchison, who will discuss Snyder v. Phelps and its potential implications on First Amendment jurisprudence.
- Professor Ann Massie, who will discuss Flores-Villar v. United States and the application of equal protection gender discrimination in the transfer of citizenship to children.
- Professor Joshua Fairfield, who will discuss Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Media Association and the constitutionality of California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to minors.
- Professor Bruck, who will discuss Connick v. Thompson and Skinner v. Switzer and issues of liability and evidence access in criminal cases.
In a “preview of the preview,” Profs. Bruck and Fairfield shared some thoughts about their respective cases in video interviews, which can be viewed below. We will post video of the entire panel discussion following the event.
Prof. Bruck on Connick v. Thompson and Skinner v. Switzer
Professor Joshua Fairfield on Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Media Association
Professor Brian Murchison, on Snyder v. Phelps and its potential implications on First Amendment jurisprudence.