News Release ~ 08/01/2014

U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. Addresses Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar on Sentencing Reform

Washington, DC (Aug. 1, 2014) – This morning, at the 57th Annual Meeting and Seminar of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and 13th Annual Conference of NACDL’s State Criminal Justice Network Conference, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. delivered important remarks concerning criminal justice reform and the important role played by the criminal defense bar in ensuring the promise of a fairer and more humane criminal justice system.

In his speech, Holder issued a warning against the potential consequences of the use of "risk assessments" and aggregate data analysis in sentencing to "both public safety and racial justice." The Attorney General said:

By basing sentencing decisions on static factors and immutable characteristics – like the defendant’s education level, socioeconomic background, or neighborhood – they may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities that are already far too common in our criminal justice system and in our society. Criminal sentences must be based on the facts, the law, the actual crimes committed, the circumstances surrounding each individual case, and the defendant’s history of criminal conduct.  They should not be based on unchangeable factors that a person cannot control, or on the possibility of a future crime that has not taken place.

Accordingly, Holder announced that the Justice Department is urging the Sentencing Commission "to study the use of data-driven analysis in front-end sentencing – and to issue policy recommendations based on this careful, independent, analysis."

The Attorney General made these remarks in the context of a call to globally rethink sentencing approaches. "Ultimately, we're striving to turn the page on an era, and an approach, that relied on incarceration over rehabilitation; that emphasized punishment over outcomes; and that too often discounted the ability of our justice system to prepare criminal defendants to reenter their communities as productive members of society," he said.

NACDL President Jerry J. Cox hailed Attorney General Holder's remarks, "As we look to the future, it is imperative that we pursue reforms with the goal of eliminating the racial and economic disparities which have plagued the nation's criminal justice system for too long."

Attorney General Holder was introduced by NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer, who noted that, "For the first time in decades, there is a growing sense that the tide is turning against the national thirst for ever harsher, longer, crueler sentences. For many who had lost hope, the dream of freedom has been rekindled."

The full text of Attorney General Holder’s prepared remarks is available here.

Contact Information

Ivan J. Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 10,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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