International human rights treaties have long exempted certain offenders from the application of the death penalty. While international law does not, broadly speaking, prohibit states from imposing capital punishment for certain serious offenses, it does impose constraints on who may be subjected to the death penalty-including, for example, juvenile offenders, pregnant women and individuals with mental disorders. In principle, these restrictions are relatively uncontroversial. In practice, however, states have failed to implement them consistently. At the same time, certain states have gone farther than what is required under international norms by excluding additional groups from the application of the death penalty, such as women and the elderly. This chapter explores these exclusions and their implementation, while also discussing ongoing efforts to expand their scope, with particular focus on the bright-line rule excluding individuals under 18 years of age from capital punishment in light of recent advances in neuroscientific research regarding the young adult brain.
Sandra L. Babcock
This chapter describes the challenges facing capital defense lawyers around the world. It also provides an overview of judicial responses to ineffective legal representation in death penalty cases. While courts in a handful of countries have overturned convictions based on trial counsel’s errors, most have taken a hands-off approach. The few courts that have quashed death sentences as a remedy for counsel’s flawed representation have emphasized the exceptional nature of such remedies. Given the judiciary’s unwillingness to ensure that capital defendants receive competent and well-funded lawyers, the author concludes that national bar associations should play an active role in setting minimum standards for capital defense representation.