About this course

This course explores the imposition of the death penalty in the United States with particular attention to the influence of race and poverty, and the disadvantages of mental illness or intellectual disability of those facing death. Utilizing decisions of the Supreme Court and other courts, transcripts, articles, interviews with people involved in the cases, and other materials, it examines both the legal and practical aspects of capital punishment, including the role of the prosecutor, defense lawyer, judge, and jury; the evidence to be considered; the procedures employed; and the fairness of its application.

The course is divided into 13 sessions, listed below. Each session features a series of videos and accompanying readings, plus supplementary links.

  1. Introduction & Death Penalty History
  2. The Supreme Court Declares the Death Penalty Unconstitutional (Then Upholds it 4 Years Later) 
  3. Proportionality, Aggravating Circumstances, and Future Dangerousness
  4. Mitigation and Victim Impact Evidence
  5. Appellate and Post-Conviction Review
  6. The Prosecution
  7. Counsel for the Defense
  8. Judges
  9. The Jury
  10. Racial Discrimination
  11. William Neal Moore
  12. Mental Health Issues
  13. Innocence, Clemency, Execution, & Perspectives

The class is taught by Prof. Stephen Bright, President of the Southern Center for Human Rights and Harvey Karp Visiting Lecturer at Yale Law School. A documentary film about his work can be viewed here.