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David Bruck

David Isaac Bruck (born 1949) is an American criminal defense attorney, clinical professor of law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, and director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse. Bruck has represented several high-profile defendants.

David Isaac Bruck
Born 1949 (age 68–69)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Education Harvard College (B.A.)
University of South Carolina School of Law (J.D.)
Occupation Criminal Defense Attorney
Parent(s) Gerald and Nina Bruck
Website Washington & Lee Faculty Profile


Early life and educationEdit

Bruck was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Canada to an affluent family.[1] Bruck is one of three children of Gerald, a retired textile executive, and Nina, a photographer.[1]

While an undergraduate at Harvard College, Bruck became involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement.[1] Bruck was a contributor to The Harvard Crimson.[2] In one piece, he called on students to refuse to take their finals in protest of Harvard University.[3] Bruck earned a Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1971.[4]

After college, Bruck attended University of South Carolina School of Law. He went to law school at the University of South Carolina so that he could advise reluctant inductees at the Army's Fort Jackson.[1] During law school, Bruck worked as a welder to pay for his schooling because he didn't want to be beholden to his family.[1] While at the University of South Carolina, he met his friend and colleague Judy Clarke. He earned his law degree cum laude in 1975. Before beginning his law practice, he travelled throughout the United States and Canada.[5]

Legal careerEdit

Bruck eventually returned to South Carolina to represent clients facing the death penalty because he did not believe these defendants were receiving adequate representation.[5] Bruck was also disturbed that the death row population consisted mostly of poor black men.[5] One fellow law school classmates said of Bruck: "He wanted to assist people who were defenseless. Many of us felt that way in school, but David was one of the few who devoted his career to it."[1]

From 1976-1980, Bruck worked as a public defender in South Carolina.[4] From 1980-1988, Bruck worked in private practice.[4] From 1989-92, Bruck was the Chief Attorney of the South Carolina Office of Appellate Defense.[4] From 1992-2004, Bruck returned to private practice.[4] Since 1992, Bruck served as Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel to the federal defender program.[4] Bruck represented Zayd Hassan Abd al-Latif Masud al-Safarini who received a life sentence for his role in the 1986 hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in Pakistan in which 22 people were killed.[6] David Bruck handled as many death penalty cases as he could in South Carolina.[7] Bruck represented dozens of people charged with capital murder before juries or on post-conviction.[5] Before his representation of Susan Smith in 1995, Bruck had only lost three to death sentences.[5] Bruck saved many of his clients by winning new trials that resulted in life sentences and in one case, an acquittal.[5] Bruck has argued several cases before the United States Supreme Court, prevailing in six of them: Kelly v. South Carolina (2002), Shafer v. South Carolina (2001), Ramdass v. Angelone (2000), Simmons v. South Carolina (1994), Yates v. Evatt (1991), Yates v. Aiken (1988), Skipper v. South Carolina (1986).[8][6]

Susan SmithEdit

In 1995, Bruck and Judy Clarke served as co-counsel for Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who faced the death penalty in South Carolina Circuit Court for killing her two sons. Bruck became friends with Clarke during law school, and recruited her for the case.[9]

In their opening statement, Clarke argued Smith was deeply troubled and suffered from severe depression.[9] Clarke told the jury: "This is not a case about evil.This is a case about despair and sadness."[10] The defense's theory of the case was that Smith drove to the edge of the lake to kill herself and her two sons, but her body willed itself out of the car.[9] The prosecution, on the other hand, believed Smith murdered her children in order to start a new life with a former lover.[9] It only took the jury two and a half hours to convict her of murdering her two sons. During the penalty phase, Tommy Pope, the lead prosecutor in the Smith case, argued passionately in favor of sentencing Smith to death. But the jury ultimately voted against imposing the death penalty.[10]

Law professorEdit

In 2002, he began teaching at Washington & Lee University School of Law. Since 2004, he has been a clinical professor of law and director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse.[4]

Dzhokhar TsarnaevEdit

In 2014, Bruck was appointed to the defense team working with Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.[11] Clarke described Bruck as “one of the most experienced and well-regarded capital defense attorneys in the United States.”[12] A federal jury convicted Tsarnaev of all 30 charges against him and found him responsible for the deaths of the three people killed in the 2013 attack and the killing of an MIT police officer three days later.[13] The same jury sentenced Tsarnaev to death.

Dylann RoofEdit

Dylann Roof, the killer of nine people in the Charleston church shooting, represented himself in federal court, with Bruck as stand-by counsel.[14] Roof was convicted by jury on all 33 counts on December 15, 2016.[15] On January 10th, 2017, after three hours of jury deliberation Dylann Roof was sentenced to death.


Bruck opposes capital punishment. He said of the practice: "I find the cold-bloodedness of the whole ritual appalling. To take somebody...and so premeditatedly set about exterminating them."[1]


  • Significant Contributions to Criminal Justice Award from the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (2001).
  • John Minor Wisdom Public Service & Professionalism Award from the American Bar Association (1996).

Scholarly articlesEdit

  • Death Watch: Change, Redemption Do Exist, The Champion, June 27, 2003.
  • A Rarefied Kind of Dread, 5 J. App. Prac. & Process 75 (2003).
  • Capital Punishment in the Age of Terrorism, 41 Cath. Law. 187 (2002) (Panel Discussion with Norman L. Greene, Norman Redlich, Paul Saunders, Richard Weisberg, and Kenneth Roth).[16]
  • A Tribute to William S. Geimer, 58 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 412 (2001).
  • Keynote Address: Political and Social Misconception Fueling the Death Penalty, 13 T.M. Cooley L. Rev. 863 (1996) (Death Penalty Symposium).
  • Does the Death Penalty Matter? Reflections of a Death Row Lawyer, 1 Reconstruction, No. 3 (1991), at 35 (1990 Ralph E. Shikes Lecture, Harvard Law School).
  • Can You Stop Client Interrogation Behind Your Back?, S.C. Law., Nov./Dec. 1991.
  • Sentencing the Mentally Retarded to Death: A Eighth Amendment Analysis, 41 Ark. L. Rev. 725 (1988) (The Mentally Retarded in the Criminal Justice System Symposium) (with John Blume).

Further readingEdit

  • Habeas Corpse: The Right Appeal Under Fire, The New Republic, July 15, 1991, at 10 (with Leslie Harris).
  • On Death Row in Pretoria Central: Capital Punishment in South Africa. It's Not All That Different, The New Republic, July 13, 1987, at 18.
  • Is the Death Penalty Only for Killers of Whites?, Wash. Post, Oct. 12, 1986, at D1.
  • Book Review, The New Republic, Jan. 20, 1986, at 27 (reviewing James Q. Wilson et al., Crime and Human Nature (1985)).
  • Executing Teen Killers Again, Wash. Post, Sept. 15, 1985, at D01.
  • The Death Penalty: An Exchange, The New Republic, May 20, 1985, at 20 (with Edward I. Koch).[17]
  • Executing Juveniles for Crime, N.Y. Times, June 16, 1984.
  • Book Review, 238 The Nation 266 (1984) (reviewing Alan Dershowitz, The Best Defense (1982) and James S. Kunen, How Can You Defend Those People?: The Making of a Criminal Lawyer (1983)).
  • Decisions of Death, The New Republic, Dec. 12, 1983, at 18.[18]
  • Strom Thurmond's Roots, The New Republic, March 3, 1982, at 15.
  • The Four Men Strom Thurmond Sent to the Chair, Wash. Post, April 26, 1981, at C1.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Cerio, Gregory. "Death on Trial". People. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  2. ^ "David I. Bruck Profile". Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  3. ^ Keller, Morton. Making Harvard Modern: The Rise of America's University. Oxford University Press. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "David Bruck Profile". Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Black, Scott. "True Crime: 12 Most Notorious Murder Stories". Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Anderson, Travis. "Tsarnaev legal team asks to add a lawyer". Boston Globe. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  7. ^ Stout, David. "The Lawyers of Death Row". NYT. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  8. ^ "David I. Bruck - Oyez Profile". Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c d Bragg, Rick. "Arguments Begin in Susan Smith Trial". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 December 2014. 
  10. ^ a b O'Neill, Ann. "Lawyer keeps even the most loathed criminals off death row". CNN. Retrieved 26 December 2014. 
  11. ^ Frank, David. "David Bruck added to Tsarnaev defense team". MA Lawyers Weekly. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  12. ^ Anderson, Travis. "Tsarnaev legal team asks to add lawyer". Boston Globe. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  13. ^ Lavoie, Denise. "Tsarnaev's lawyer faces perhaps her biggest challenge yet". Seattle Times. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  14. ^ Cohen, Andrew. "Meet Dylan Roof's Defender". The Marshall Project. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  15. ^ Hersher, Rebecca. "Jury Finds Dylann Roof Guilty In S.C. Church Shooting". npr. NPR. Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  16. ^ Bruck, David. "Capital Punishment in the Age of Terrorism". Retrieved 10 April 2015. 
  17. ^ Bruck, David. "The Death Penalty" (PDF). 
  18. ^ Bruck, David. "Decisions of Death" (PDF). Retrieved 10 April 2015.