Grotesque Spectacle in Oklahoma Demands Immediate End to the Death Penalty in America
It is reported that last night Oklahoma death row inmate Clayton Lockett died of an apparent heart attack some 43 minutes following the State of Oklahoma administering its first injection, and after Lockett's vein "exploded" and observers reported he remained conscious and even attempted to speak. This grotesque spectacle prompted Oklahoma authorities to suspend a second planned execution last night. It should prompt all U.S. jurisdictions that have yet to end the death penalty to do so, immediately and permanently.
NACDL President Jerry J. Cox said: "NACDL unequivocally opposes the death penalty on numerous grounds, but this latest installment in a long series of botched executions should shock the conscience of all Americans, including those who have to this point supported what is, at its core, a barbaric and medieval practice. The death penalty is a stain on the honor of this great nation. And it must stop. Now."
An online version of NACDL's complete statement is available here.
Foundation for Criminal Justice to Host Gala Dinner
The Foundation for Criminal Justice presents Celebrating Liberty’s Last Champions™: Guardians of the Constitution, a gala event to celebrate the tens of thousands of criminal defense lawyers across the country who dedicate their careers to guarding the fundamental protections of the Constitution. Kerry Kennedy, human rights activist and author, is scheduled to deliver remarks. The event will take place on August 1, 2014, in conjunction with NACDL’s Annual Meeting and Seminar, at 7:00 p.m. at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center. Details are available at http://www.nacdl.org/foundation/philadelphia2014.
Clemency Project 2014 Excited to Begin Work
Last week, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced a new set of criteria the Justice Department and White House will use when considering clemency petitions from federal prisoners. The criteria will help the Justice Department identify federal prisoners who, if sentenced today, under current sentencing laws and policies, would likely have received a substantially lower sentence.
NACDL is currently working to assist the Justice Department in carrying out this ambitious undertaking as a leading member of Clemency Project 2014. Launched in January, Clemency Project 2014 is a working group composed of NACDL, the Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, as well as individuals active within those organizations. The group seeks to provide pro bono assistance to federal prisoners seeking to apply for clemency under the new guidelines.
While NACDL and the other members of Clemency Project 2014 fully support the new clemency guidelines, the groups have made every effort to stress that there are many other federal prisoners whose sentences are grossly disproportionate to the crimes for which they were convicted. NACDL and its partners continue to urge the Department of Justice and President Obama to vastly expand use of the clemency power to correct widespread injustice. Similarly, each organization participating in the Project supports legislative action to curtail sentencing laws that continue to cause unjust sentences.
Lawyers interested in volunteering for the project may do so by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about Clemency Project 2014, including a detailed description of the new criteria, can be found here.
Recording Interrogations Project Launch
NACDL is proud to launch a comprehensive compendium on its website of jurisdictions that record interrogations. The compendium was compiled by NACDL member Thomas Sullivan, partner at the law firm Jenner & Block. The site includes introductory remarks by Mr. Sullivan, the full compendium in PDF form, a state map that features the most up to date information on pending/enacted legislation and case law, a list of international jurisdictions which record interrogations, a bibliography of books and articles on recording interrogations, information on federal agencies, and more.
Earlier today, Mr. Sullivan and Rebecca Brown, director of state policy reform at the Innocence Project, joined NACDL to discuss this new resource and pending legislation. Audio of the call will be available soon. For more information on previous advocacy calls, please visit here.
The full compendium can be accessed here.
Cellphone Privacy and the Fourth Amendment at the Supreme Court
Yesterday morning, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in two important cases related to law enforcement searches of cellphones incident to arrest and the Fourth Amendment. The first case, Riley v. California, focuses on the admissibility of evidence seized through the search of an arrestee’s Smartphone without a warrant. The second case, United States v. Wurie, asks if police, without obtaining a warrant, should be allowed to review an arrestee’s cellphone call log.
NACDL has long maintained that the Fourth Amendment does not die the moment an individual encounters a police officer or is suspected of a crime. NACDL filed amicus briefs in both of these cases arguing that the police should obtain a warrant before searching the contents of an individual’s cellphone and call log. And in both Riley and Wurie NACDL encourages the Court and the public to recognize the real world loss of privacy that would occur if Fourth Amendment protections and individual privacy interests are not upheld.
NACDL’s amicus brief in United States v. Wurie, filed jointly with the National Association of Federal Defenders, is available here. And NACDL’s amicus brief in Riley v. California, filed jointly with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, is available here.
U.S. Sentencing Commission Votes to Reduce Drug Trafficking Sentences
On April 10, the U.S. Sentencing Commission took another step toward making federal drug sentences more reasonable. The agency approved an amendment that would reduce the guidelines level for most drug offenses by two levels, amounting to an 11-month sentence reduction on average. NACDL supports the Commission’s action and has urged Congress not to reject this modest, incremental reduction. Unless Congress rejects the "drugs-minus-2" amendment, which was approved as part of a larger package of amendments, the change will go into effect on November 1, 2014. While the lower offense levels would apply only prospectively, the Commission asked for public comment on whether this change should be made retroactive. NACDL strongly supported the original amendment in its comprehensive comments, and intends to file comments supporting retroactivity.
Unfortunately, ameliorating inappropriately high guidelines will not solve the larger problem: inflexible, draconian and fiscally unsustainable mandatory minimum sentences. This requires congressional action, namely that Congress take up and pass the Smarter Sentencing Act. This bipartisan legislation, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and also pending in the House, would cut in half mandatory minimum sentences for most drug offenses. It is supported by NACDL, a host of civil and human rights organizations, some law enforcement and prisons guard organizations, several conservative organizations, as well the Department of Justice.
NACDL Deplores Political Attacks on the Criminal Defense Function
While NACDL does not endorse or oppose any political candidates, NACDL does strongly deplore attacks on any attorney, including political candidates representing any political party or ideology, arising out of the attorney's representation of clients in criminal matters. Most recently, this disgraceful line of attack has reared its head in the South Carolina gubernatorial race. There, reported statements by current Gov. Nikki Haley and South Carolina GOP Chairman Matt Moore, and now a second round of television advertisements sponsored by the Republican Governors Association, do precisely that.
In a statement sent to both national and local media outlets earlier this week, NACDL President Jerry J. Cox said: "The idea of attacking someone simply for fulfilling the mandate of the United States Constitution to provide every accused person with a defense attorney is inconsistent with the nation's fundamental values. The founders of this nation recognized that no person should ever stand alone when the government seeks to condemn, imprison, or kill a person. To suggest that one's qualifications for office are diminished for having lived up to the ideal of the right to counsel is an ill-conceived line of attack."
An online version of NACDL's complete statement is available here.
Member Assistance Requested for Trial Penalty Project
NACDL has undertaken a project to expose the federal trial penalty – the enormous tax that is imposed or threatened to be imposed upon accused persons who avail themselves of the right to a trial. The project will focus on the vast discrepancy between post-trial sentences and the sentences that are offered as part of a plea agreement, and the multiple ways that prosecutorial power is used to extract guilty pleas or disproportionately punish those who dare to take their case to trial. This project builds on a report recently issued by Human Rights Watch, which comprehensively exposed the trial penalty in federal drug cases. The Human Rights Watch report can be found here. And you may listen to a podcast describing the report on NACDL’s The Criminal Docket here.
The NACDL project, which is spearheaded by Vice President Barry Pollack, and which is supported by a pro bono team of researchers from Skadden Arps, is seeking firsthand accounts of the trial penalty in all federal cases, other than drug cases. This could include situations where a client received a far more severe sentence after trial than similarly situated co-defendants who pled guilty, or any case in which a prosecutor sought severe enhancements after a client declined to plead guilty; it could also include cases where a person who was arguably or actually innocent opted to plead guilty because of the likelihood that the sentence, if convicted after a trial, would have been far more severe.
The project depends upon the support of NACDL members and other defense lawyers in sharing their stories of the trial penalty in practice. If you have one or more examples, please visit http://www.nacdl.org/trialpenalty/ for more information about the project and to complete a questionnaire.
NACDL Special and Regular Election Announcement
In 2014, NACDL members will elect nine members of the Board of Directors, as well as President-Elect, First Vice President, Second Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary. Interested members may still petition to be included on the ballot. All rules governing the conduct of NACDL elections as well as instructions for submitting candidacy petitions are available at www.nacdl.org/elections.
NACDL’s Board of Directors will also fill a current vacancy at a special election in Las Vegas on May 18, 2014. Please see www.nacdl.org/elections for more information.
State Criminal Justice Network Conference
The 13th Annual State Criminal Justice Network Conference entitled Life, Liberty and Justice: Seizing the Moment to Advance our Constitutional Rights will take place from Thursday, July 31 to Friday, August 1. This year’s conference is being co-sponsored by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Juvenile Law Center. Panels include: "Racism 101: A Primer for Challenging Racial Discrimination and Bias in the Criminal Justice System," "Ensuring Life, Liberty & Justice: Developments in Indigent Defense," and "Youth Interrupted: Lessons from the Juvenile Justice Community."
Other features of the program include the presentation of the State Criminal Justice Award, an award that recognizes an individual or group whose exceptional efforts have led toward progressive reform of a state criminal justice system, as well as the screening of Kids for Cash, a documentary that examines the recent scandal in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania where over 3000 kids were incarcerated for petty sentences. For more information about the film, click here.
Gideon’s Army Screening
As part of its Grassroots Advocacy Project, on Thursday, May 1 at 12:00 p.m. ET, NACDL will host a screening of Gideon’s Army. The documentary, released last year, focuses on three young public defenders who struggle against the realities of low pay, long hours and overwhelming case loads. The American Constitution Society for Law & Public Policy and the Justice Roundtable Conversations on Justice Film Series are co-hosting the event. NACDL will be joined by the film’s Producer/Director Dawn Porter, who will make introductory remarks prior the screening. A panel discussion will follow the film and refreshments will be served. To RSVP, please click here.
Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award
NACDL’s State Criminal Justice Network (SCJN) is seeking nominations for the Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award. The award will be presented on Thursday, July 31, during the SCJN conference. Please click here to download criteria for 2014 award. Nominations are due Friday June 16, 2014. And please visit here for more information about the award and previous awardees.