Ohio’s two federal public defenders, in Cleveland and Columbus, both are hiring lawyers who will specialize in death penalty cases, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. For defendants, it might mean more competent aid from lawyers who better know the U.S. court system. For the federal government, the tab for indigent clients may get cheaper. For the state public defender and some private attorneys, it probably means less work. Later this year, when each district has established its Capital Habeas Unit, the districts will be among just 17 of the U.S. court system’s 89 districts with public defenders dedicated to handling death penalty cases.
There are 55 people on federal death row. The federal government had stopped seeking the death penalty until 1988’s drug kingpin statute, used for murders committed during illegal drug operations. In 1994, Congress expanded the list of death penalty-eligible crimes to include more than 60 other offenses – including murder-for-hire. Since then, the number of cases in which the U.S. attorney general has sought capital punishment is on the rise.