For most of us, COVID-19 is like nothing we have ever experienced. In these frightening times, as we worry about the safety of our families, our loved ones, and our colleagues, we can draw strength from our shared commitment to our clients, to redressing systemic racism and inequities in the criminal justice system, and to the preservation of the core values guaranteed by the Constitution.
If you are like me, you cling to these ideals now more than ever. Hard times require character, resolve, spirit, and heart. These are the universal qualities of the criminal defense lawyer. This is a lot to be proud of and even more to live up to. Personally, I could not be prouder to be NACDL’s President than I am during this crisis.
I want to take this opportunity to thank you, NACDL’s members and Liberty’s Last Champions, for all that you do for your clients and for the cause of justice during this challenging period. Your efforts to protect the rights of the accused and vulnerable jail and prison populations are heroic in normal times, so there are no words to describe NACDL’s and my gratitude for your commitment now. I urge all of you who are able to utilize your personal connections, in addition to official court filings, to seek life-saving relief for your clients. I encourage you to educate prosecutors and judges to recognize that this is a time to take swift and comprehensive mitigating steps and actions to protect the vulnerable. I personally have found this sort of advocacy within the professional networks I interact with to be particularly effective.
As many of you know, including those of you who have already volunteered, NACDL is supporting an historic pro bono effort to secure compassionate release for the most vulnerable federal prisoners. NACDL and its partners are currently recruiting attorneys, social workers, and medical professionals to work on compassionate release motions for those inmates most vulnerable to COVID-19: the elderly and chronically ill. The passage of the First Step Act in December 2018 expanded federal compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(1), allowing inmates to file compassionate release motions directly with their sentencing courts. The First Step Act also expanded the sentencing courts’ discretion to reduce sentences based on "extraordinary and compelling reasons" under 18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(1). The COVID-19 pandemic is without question an "extraordinary and compelling reason." And you can help! Please join this effort and volunteer by completing this compassionate release volunteer form. And please spread the word and share the link.
I am also extremely grateful that so many of you have contributed excellent model motions and other court papers, advocacy letters, and links to other aggregators of coronavirus resources of interest to the criminal justice community for posting to NACDL’s robust coronavirus resource. Please continue to do so not just on the listservs but also by emailing content to NACDL Senior Director of Public Affairs & Communications Ivan Dominguez at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ivan works with other members of the NACDL team to enhance this resource every day in order to serve NACDL members, advocates, and the public throughout this crisis. Please share this resource with your professional networks and communities.
NACDL will continue to be in close contact with you throughout this challenging time. And I encourage you to visit NACDL’s website to stay updated as to the Association’s work, including its educational programs as well as its ongoing legal and policy efforts.
One final and very important request: In this challenging time, please help NACDL continue to serve you and your clients during this public health crisis and beyond. Click here to renew or to sponsor a new member. Click here to support the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice with a donation.
Nina J. Ginsberg
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