Amicus Briefs Filed in 2020

The Amicus Curiae Committee’s mission is to provide amicus assistance on the federal and state level in those cases that present issues of importance to criminal defendants, criminal defense lawyers, and/or the criminal justice system as a whole. Membership in NACDL is not a prerequisite either for amicus assistance from the Committee, or for authorship of an NACDL amicus brief.

Brown v. Lumpkin

Brief of Amicus Curiae the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Support of Petitioner’s Objections to Magistrate Judge’s Order.

Argument: Investigations by telephone, rather than in-person, deprive Brown of effective assistance of counsel. Defense counsel’s ability in a death penalty case to effectively represent the client is derived from “the overarching duty to advocate the defendant’s cause.” This duty is even more critical in capital cases, since “‘the penalty of death is qualitatively different’ from any other sentence.” As such, capital cases require a “greater degree of reliability when the death sentence is imposed.” However, reliability is only attainable when defense counsel is able to adequately investigate and prepare, which is fundamental to attorney competence. Inhibiting defense counsel’s ability to investigate renders counsel ineffective and harms the client. In fact, several courts have found defense counsel constitutionally ineffective for failing to conduct an in-person investigation. The Magistrate’s Order asks counsel to ignore ethical obligations under standards governing capital cases. A mitigation investigation in a capital case must not deviate from the American Bar Association Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Council in Death Penalty Cases and the Supplementary Guidelines for the Mitigation Function of Defense Teams in Death Penalty Cases. Capital life sentence investigations must be conducted according to well-established best practices. The ABA Guidelines, the Supplementary Guidelines, and Texas Guidelines articulate the national and state standards regarding the investigation obligations of defense teams in such cases.

Gonzalez v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Brief of National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, University of Nevada, Las Vegas Immigration Clinic, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Washington Defender Association, Brooklyn Defender Services, Bronx Defenders, and Immigrant Defense Project as Amici Curiae in Support of Appellees and Cross-Appellants Gerardo Gonzalez, et al.

Argument: ICE’s use of immigration detainers violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against arbitrary detention and its requirement that a person in government custody receive a prompt, neutral determination of probable cause for their arrest. ICE issues immigration detainers to local law enforcement without any neutral or even individualized probable cause determination, but based merely on the automated review of computerized databases that are incomplete and inaccurate. The subjects of these detainers are frequently held for at least 48 hours after they are otherwise eligible for release, even though most are not even taken into ICE custody. Those taken into ICE custody are frequently denied bond and remain in detention for additional weeks, months, or even years before an immigration judge rules on their removal proceedings, without any neutral review of probable cause supporting their arrest. ICE detainers also result in a wide range of negative collateral consequences even separate and apart from lengthy detention. Because ICE detainers have repercussions indistinguishable from criminal proceedings in which prompt, neutral review of probable cause is required, they must be subject to the same Fourth Amendment protections under Gerstein.

Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle v. Baltimore Police Department

Brief Of Amici Curiae Electronic Frontier Foundation, Brennan Center For Justice, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Freedomworks Foundation, National Association Of Criminal Defense Lawyers, And Rutherford Institute In Support Of Plaintiffs-Appellants’ Petition For Rehearing En Banc.

Argument: Rehearing en banc is necessary because the panel’s opinion contradicts two controlling Fourth Amendment principles. First, surveillance technologies that collect detailed records about people’s movements, like Baltimore’s Aerial Investigative Research (AIR) program, infringe on individuals’ reasonable expectations of privacy. Second, the “special needs” exception to the warrant requirement does not apply where, as here, a police surveillance program serves only as a law enforcement investigatory tool. Rehearing is also warranted by the important technological and social aspects of this case. Baltimore’s AIR program comprehensively tracks the movements of a half-million people as they travel throughout the city, and it is integrated into the city’s vast surveillance camera and automated license plate reader (ALPR) networks. Other vendors are following AIR’s maker, Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS), into this new market for advanced police aerial surveillance technologies.  These police “eyes in the sky” chill free speech and assembly in public places, raising serious First Amendment concerns. This case also exemplifies the disparate burden of government surveillance borne by communities of color—a problem described as “the color of surveillance.” Police experiment with, and eventually deploy, intrusive technologies like the AIR program in cities with large communities of color. Before Baltimore, PSS operated surveillance flights above Compton, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Dayton, Ohio. The company also seeks to conduct surveillance of St. Louis, Missouri. Further, authorities have routinely deployed aerial surveillance technologies against individuals participating in racial justice movements, like those protesting against the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The combination of these racial disparities and the novel surveillance technique at issue here thus justifies rehearing this case en banc. And the legal errors in the panel’s opinion require it.

People v. Donthe Lucas

Brief of Amici Curiae Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in support of Defendant-Petitioner. 

Argument: Mr. Lucas is held in a county jail without bail pending trial on a charge of first degree murder. In this original proceeding, the Colorado Supreme Court will determine whether the trial erred in denying Mr. Lucas’ motion to require the sheriff to keep professional consultation visits confidential. The Sheriff has a policy to inform the district attorney of the professional consultation visits received by Mr. Lucas. The amicus brief argues that the right to prepare a defense in secret is a necessary corollary to a defendant’s constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and the effective assistance of counsel. When the prosecution prematurely learns the identity of consulting defense experts, the prosecution gains an unfair advantage in trial preparation, rendering the trial fundamentally unfair. The Sheriff can only provide this information when the defendant is incarcerated pretrial, denying equal protection to indigent and otherwise non-bondable defendants. An express recognition that defendants must be granted a fair opportunity to prepare their defense with sufficient secrecy to protect their pretrial strategy from disclosure is consistent with reciprocal discovery rules which require disclose of defense experts only if they will be called as trial witnesses and with the attorney work-product doctrine. Defense lawyers will also be rendered constitutionally ineffective if forced to alter strategies for consulting with experts solely because a defendant is jailed pretrial.

South Carolina v. Robinson

Brief of Amicus Curiae National Association Of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Support of Petitioner.

Argument: Kenneth Robinson’s case is a quintessential example of why people plead guilty under the threat of a trial tax. Kenneth withstood the immense pressure to plead guilty. A child of only fifteen, charged with murder under the “hand of one, hand of all” doctrine, he exercised his right to a jury trial, foregoing a twenty-three-year offer to plea to manslaughter. He refused to relinquish his right to appeal, foregoing a thirty-year plea offer following guilty verdicts at trial. He paid the price. Most defendants plead guilty to avoid the trial tax; Kenneth went to trial, and the trial tax was levied against him in the form of a fifty-year sentence. By contrast, Kenneth’s co-defendants pleaded guilty and received significantly shorter sentences. NACDL is uniquely positioned to observe the criminal justice system. Over time, based on empirical data and the experiences of its members, NACDL has developed an understanding of the trial tax—the reality that individuals who choose to exercise their Sixth Amendment right to trial face exponentially higher sentences if they invoke the right to trial and lose. It is NACDL’s position that the trial tax is antithetical to the American concept of justice because it diminishes jury trials, undermines the legal system’s goal of truth-seeking, relieves the government of its burden of proof, contributes to wrongful convictions, and disproportionately hurts young people. Kenneth Robinson’s case in particular starkly reveals the dangers to a defendant who chooses to exercise his constitutional right to trial.

State v. Booker

Brief of the National Association Criminal Defense Lawyers et al. as Amici Curiae in Support of Appellant.

Argument: Tennessee’s sentencing statute for first-degree murder, which mandatorily imposes a minimum 51-year term of prison confinement on a juvenile, without consideration of the teenager’s youth and immaturity or other mitigating circumstances, violates the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clauses and other provisions of the federal and state constitutions. In Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. 460 (2016), the United States Supreme Court held that, in light of contemporary understanding of adolescent psychology and brain development, it is unconstitutional to mandatorily deprive a juvenile offender of “a meaningful opportunity to obtain release based demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” Because a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for 51 years exceeds the expected life-span of offenders sentenced at a young age, it does not provide young offenders with the “meaningful opportunity” for release contemplated by the Supreme Court of the United States. A majority of state court decisions from outside Tennessee have held that term-of-years sentences of over fifty years do not provide young offenders with a meaningful opportunity for release. Further, after Miller and Montgomery, numerous state legislatures have enacted juvenile sentencing and parole procedures allowing juveniles the opportunity for parole within a much shorter time period.

TCDLA, et al. v. Abbott

Brief of Amicus Curiae National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Support of Plaintiff

Argument: Texas Governor Greg Abbot’s Executive Order GA-13 of March 29, 2020 seeks to order that Texas judges may not release persons to personal bonds where the person has previously been convicted of a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence or of a person currently arrested for such a crime; that is supported by probable cause. Leaving aside the vague terms of this executive order, it encroaches on the function of the courts to determine whether persons should be released on personal bond, whether they should be released on electronic monitoring, or should be released on a cash or surety bond with conditions. It does not prohibit release of this same class of described persons on cash or surety bail. Therefore, it appears to place restrictions for release on the poor over those for those of greater means without any rational relationship to a distinguishing important governmental purpose. Thus, those previously convicted of the defined crimes or currently charged with those crimes can obtain release; while those without the economic means to post a cash or surety bail cannot obtain release. Under the circumstances presented by the COVID 19 pandemic and the Texas Criminal justice system, GA 13 violates the separation of powers, interferes with judicial independence, violates equal protection and due process of law, and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment for those who cannot afford cash or surety bail who otherwise qualify for release on personal bond. 

United States v. Briggs; United States v. Collins; United States v. Daniels

Brief of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as Amicus Curiae in Support of Respondents.

Argument: First, there must be a specific reason not to apply the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution to servicemembers. As there is no issue of military importance that excludes servicemembers from the protections of the Eighth Amendment, rape of an adult cannot be an “offense punishable by death.” Under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment, the crime of rape of an adult cannot be punishable by death. Petitioner has not met its burden to provide a military-specific exception for the application of the Eighth Amendment to servicemembers. Here, the Petitioner offers policy prescriptions and “national security” reasons which are insufficient to deprive a service-member of his or her constitutional rights. Further, canons of statutory interpretation require that Article 43 must be read to protect applicable constitutional rights. Specifically, sections in the same statutory scheme should be read in pari materia, or interpreted together. Article 43, at the time of Respondents’ alleged offenses, had no statute of limitations for crimes punishable by death, including rape, but established a five-year limitation otherwise; however, Article 55 prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, mirroring the Eighth Amendment. Applying Supreme Court precedent that precludes death as a punishment for rape of an adult, Article 43 read in conjunction with Article 55 requires that rape was subject to a five-year statute of limitations at the time of the alleged offenses. Lastly, civilian law must inform the interpretation of the UCMJ. The CAAF may not freely disregard Supreme Court precedent without a “legitimate military necessity or distinction.” Therefore, the CAAF’s decision to reverse Respondents’ convictions should be affirmed.

United States v. Raia

Brief of Amici Curiae National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and FAMM in Support of Defendant/Appellee’s Petition for Rehearing and/or Rehearing En Banc.

Argument: Appellee Raia’s Petition for Rehearing addresses the discretion of a district court to excuse the 30-day waiting period for compassionate release under the First Step Act, 18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(1)(A). On April 2, 2020, the Panel declined to remand this case under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 12.1, stating that remand would be “futile.” In so ruling, the Panel necessarily concluded that the 30-day waiting period cannot be excused or waived. That conclusion was inconsistent with both Supreme Court and Circuit precedent. The ruling creates inconsistency in the Circuit’s treatment of all claims-processing rules, and undermines courts’ equitable authority in a wide range of cases. The30-day waiting period is a nonjurisdictional claims-processing rule. Courts may excuse noncompliance with that rule absent an express prohibition on doing so. Remand is therefore not “futile.” The Panel’s sua sponte conclusion to the contrary was error. Rehearing should be granted to correct the Panel’s error and confirm that judges are empowered to address “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances even when they arise exigently. At a minimum, the Panel should grant rehearing and order full briefing on this important issue, which was neither decided below nor fully briefed on appeal.


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