In 17 years of litigating death penalty cases, Stephen Harper has never had a client sentenced to death.
Celebrating his vital career, the Greater Miami Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union recently honored Harper, clinical professor at Florida International University College of Law, with the 2013 C. Clyde Atkins Civil Liberties Award. The award acknowledges an individual who has made exceptional contributions to the advancement of civil liberties.
Perhaps Harper’s most important work to date has been demonstrating to the legal world the permanent and causal link between childhood experiences and adult criminal behavior.
“My contributions to this work included helping to develop standards for the ABA Guidelines on the Appointment and Performance of Counsel in Death Penalty Cases, helping to teach lawyers the links between childhood (e.g. abuse, neglect) and adult conduct, and teaching lawyers the basics and complexities of investigating and presenting mitigating evidence,” said Harper.
Harper was the coordinator of the Juvenile Death Penalty Initiative, a group whose sole purpose was to end the death penalty for juveniles. Together they worked on state legislation, helped lawyers litigate cases, and enlisted organizations and countries against the juvenile death penalty.
His work culminated in Roper v. Simmons (striking down juvenile death penalty as unconstitutional) in which he advised counsel and coordinated the writing of amicus briefs to the Supreme Court.
He recently retired as co-coordinator of the Capital Litigation Unit in the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office, and now teaches a course on the death penalty while supervising law students and lawyers on properly preparing the penalty phase of death cases throughout Florida.
The annual award, was presented to Harper on May 10, in the Miami Beach Botanical Garden.
“It was an honor to be selected for this award as I always admired the integrity and work of Judge C. Clyde Atkins,” said Harper. “It is also an honor to be recognized by my peers as someone who has contributed to making the law more just.”