Cultural Competency In Capital Mitigation (PDF)

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“The basic concept underlying the Eighth Amendment is nothing less than the dignity of man,” and contemporary constitutional standards recognize “[t]he need for treating each defendant in a capital case with that degree of respect due the uniqueness of the individual.” Hence, “consideration of the character and record of the individual offender and the circumstances of the particular offense [is] a constitutionally indispensable part of the process of inflicting the penalty of death.” The obvious link between culture and the mitigation function of capital defense teams is summed up by anthropologist Clifford Geertz: “there is no such thing as a human nature independent of culture.” Because “[c]ulture is an all-pervasive medium,” cultural competency is essential to the ability of capital defense teams to discover and reveal the humanity of the accused.

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