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The Capital Punishment Clinic offers opportunities for students to represent clients with capital sentences through placements at capital punishment resource centers.

Students work primarily at capital punishment resource centers in the southern United States, working on-site during the winter term and remotely in the spring. Past placements have included:

  • Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana
  • Center for Death Penalty Litigation
  • Defender Association of Philadelphia – Capital Habeas Unit
  • Equal Justice Institute
  • Office of Capital Writs
  • Southern Center for Human Rights
  • Texas Defender Service

Exact clinical placements are coordinated through the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs after a student’s enrollment.

How to Register

The clinic is offered in the Winter-Spring semester. You can learn about the required clinical course component, clinical credits and the clinical registration process by reading the course catalog description and exploring the links in this section.

Early Drop Deadline: September 1, 2023

Meet the Instructors

headshot of Carol Steiker

Carol Steiker

Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law

Carol Steiker is the Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where she serves as the Dean’s Special Advisor for Public Service. She also served as Faculty Co-Director of the Harvard Criminal Justice Policy Program from 2015-2020. Professor Steiker specializes in the broad field of criminal justice, where her work ranges from substantive criminal law to criminal procedure to institutional design, with a special focus on capital punishment. Her most recent books are Comparative Capital Punishment, co-edited with her brother Jordan Steiker (Edward Elgar 2019) and Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment, co-authored with Jordan Steiker (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2016).

Professor Steiker is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where she served as president of the Harvard Law Review, the second woman to hold that position in its then 99-year history. After clerking for Judge J. Skelly Wright of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court, she worked as a staff attorney for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where she represented indigent defendants at all stages of the criminal process. In addition to her scholarly work, Professor Steiker has done pro bono work for indigent criminal defendants, including death penalty cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, and she was appointed to the board of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the statewide public defender for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She has served as a consultant and expert witness on issues of criminal justice and capital punishment for non-profit organizations and has testified before Congress and state legislatures.

In the News

  • Featured image for ‘The stakes have never been higher’ in the Capital Punishment Clinic article

    ‘The stakes have never been higher’ in the Capital Punishment Clinic

    By Olivia Klein Within moments of arriving in Philadelphia in January, Robert Clinton ’24 and Charles Sonenclar ’24 — two Harvard Law students participating in the school’s Capital Punishment Clinic — dove into work on last-minute appeals in the cases of two defendants whose executions were scheduled within a month. The opportunity to take on

    April 14, 2023

  • Death Penalty Defense Work

    On November 15, Professor Carol Steiker led a conversation with recent HLS graduates and Capital Punishment Clinic alumni working in the area of death penalty defense. Watch here: This event is part of the Library’s yearlong series of programming in connection with their exhibit, Visualizing Capital Punishment: Spectacle, Shame, and Sympathy.

    November 18, 2022

  • Empowering the Powerless on Death Row

    By: Fabiola Perez Castro, J.D. ’19 When I set foot inside the Allen B. Polunsky Unit in Texas, my heartbeat was sent into overdrive, despite the calm demeanor I worked so hard to emit. It was only my third day on the job with my clinic supervisor, Gretchen Sween. We left Austin at 6am and

    May 30, 2019

  • Matters of Life or Death

    Via The Harvard Gazette It was a chilly afternoon outside the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, a maximum-security prison for death-row inmates in Livingston, Texas. Inside, the mood was somber. An execution was scheduled for later that day, and a sense of foreboding filled the air. Law School student Jake Meiseles, J.D. ’19, was talking to

    September 6, 2018

  • Reflecting on capital punishment

    By Ke’Andra Levingston, J.D. ’17 One of the greatest learning experiences I had while at Texas Defenders was seeing the intersection between legal substance and empathy in the practice of public defense. Though much of my work involved formal legal research and doctrinal practice, nearly as much of my externship has involved very personal interactions

    May 16, 2016