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News Releases ~ 1997

Statement of Gerald B. Lefcourt, President, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers On Supreme Court's Prosecutorial Immunity Decision -- Washington, DC (December 10, 1997) -In a victory for justice and common sense, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that a prosecutor who lied in order to obtain an arrest warrant may be sued for damages. Kalina v. Fletcher, No. 96-792, affirms lower court decisions holding that state officials enjoy only limited immunity from suits for violations of civil rights they commit during the course of performing their official duties. More 

DOJ Aware of Problems in FBI's DNA Lab -- Washington, DC (November 25, 1997) - The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, which conducted an 18-month investigation of the FBI lab, has been on notice of problems in the FBI's DNA analysis unit (DNAU) since as far back as December 1995, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers announced today. "Investigators from the Inspector General's Office interviewed dozens of FBI agents during the course of their 18-month investigation," NACDL President Gerald B. Lefcourt noted. "During that time, they turned up evidence that the prevailing culture of the lab -- which one agent likens to a "fraternity" -- is a 'shoot from the hip' culture favoring the prosecution, rather than a culture of objective science, and honest search for the truth." More 

Initiative to Free the Innocent Expanding -- Washington, DC (November 20, 1997) - "Countless innocent Americans are behind bars or on death row for crimes that they didn't commit. Law schools and journalism schools are often in the best position to correct these grave injustices, as we've seen in Illinois where more people have been freed from death row than have been executed," noted Gerald Lefcourt, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), in announcing a major campaign to expand the existing Innocence Project to law schools and journalism schools nationwide. More 

Disciplinary Boards Must Scrutinize Low-Bid Contracts Providing Counsel to Needy Citizens -- Washington, DC (October 10, 1997), (updated November 3, 1998) - Fixed-price contracts for providing legal representation to poor Americans accused of crimes or wrongdoing are effectively wiping out the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, violating citizens' rights and leading to wrongful convictions, according to a report the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers released Friday. The report charges that the practice of "low-bid contracting" is designed to "process the maximum number of defendants at the lowest cost -- without regard to truth, justice or innocence." More 

Early Review of Documents Reveals FBI Lab Misconduct More Serious than Reported -- Washington, DC (September 29, 1997) - "Our review of documents thus far generated by the Department of Justice Inspector General's 18-month investigation of the FBI Lab reveals systemic problems scarcely addressed by the April 15 report -- bad science, sloppy record-keeping and professional misconduct," Gerald B. Lefcourt, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said today as he prepared to testify before a Senate hearing on problems in the FBI's Crime Laboratory. "So far we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. We are greatly concerned that for some American citizens convicted by 'bad science,' the time for filing appeals and writs of habeas corpus is fast running out," Lefcourt said. More 

Reimburse Unfairly Accused Citizens -- Washington, DC (September 26, 1997) - "The House of Representatives scored a victory for all Americans yesterday by voting to reimburse citizens' legal fees in defending themselves against unjust or wrongful charges," said Gerald Lefcourt, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). The House action benefits not only citizens who are forced to expend thousands of dollars defending themselves against false criminal charges, but it will save taxpayers monies as well by discouraging ill-considered prosecution based on little or no evidence of wrongdoing," he added. More 

'Strike Force' Ready to Defend Martin Luther King Case Lawyer -- Washington, DC (September 11, 1997) - Earlier this week, an investigator with the Memphis District Attorney General's office threatened a respected law professor with obstruction of justice if he did not turn over confidential information he had gathered on an alleged conspiracy to murder Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. University of Memphis Law School Professor Mike Roberts was appointed by Memphis judge John P. Colton to review files pertaining to James Earl Ray, who is seeking to withdraw his guilty plea and exercise his constitutional right to trial. Acting at the behest of the court, Roberts interviewed persons claiming to have knowledge of a conspiracy until the Tennessee Court of Appeals revoked his subpoena power last month on technical grounds. More 

NACDL Urges Clemency to Correct an Injustice -- Washington, DC (July 30, 1997) - Serious questions regarding the guilt of death row inmate Tommy Thompson, and the courts' powerlessness to correct the injustice of a wrongful conviction, are compelling grounds to commute his death sentence, says Judy Clarke, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in a letter to California Governor Pete Wilson. Ms. Clarke notes in her letter that a number of newspapers and former state and federal prosecutors support clemency for Thompson, who is scheduled to be executed August 5. More 

Measure to Restrict Government Seizure Power Further Compromises Citizens' Rights -- Washington, DC (June 23, 1997) - After careful review, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers rejects the important but severely flawed civil asset reform effort reported out of the House Judiciary Committee late last week. The measure purports to address the basic unfairness and inequities of existing asset forfeiture laws, but what was at first an outstanding bill with widespread bi-partisan support in the House has been seriously compromised by the U.S. Department of Justice and other law enforcement entities who unfairly benefit from these laws at the expense of innocent citizens. More 

Congress Should Reform FBI Lab -- Washington, DC (May 12, 1997) - Science should favor neither the prosecution nor the defense in its search for the truth, an attorney for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) will remind members of the Crime Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning. The panel is holding oversight hearings on serious deficiencies in the FBI Lab which came to light after last month's release of the Justice Department Inspector General's damning Report. Having focused on just 3 of 35 Lab units, the Report identified numerous instances of fabrication of test results, scientifically flawed and biased testimony, unqualified examiners with little or no formal education in their professed field of expertise, a predisposition toward slanting testimony in favor of the prosecution, and other rampant problems.  More 

Victims' Rights Amendment Endangers Everyone's Rights -- Washington, DC (April 29, 1997) - Burgeoning opposition to the proposed Victims' Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in recent weeks comes from unexpected quarters. Prominent among groups opposing the idea outright or refusing to endorse it are the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Organization for Women (NOW LDEF), the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation. More 

Statement of Judy Clarke President, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on Supreme Court's "No Knock" Decision -- Washington, DC (April 28, 1997) - The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States provides that Americans shall be secure in their homes and persons from unreasonable searches and seizures. To that end, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers argued on behalf of Steiney Richards in the Supreme Court decision handed down today, Richards v. Wisconsin. More 

FBI Lab Report Raises Specter of National Scandal -- Washington, DC (April 15, 1997) - The Inspector General's investigation into practices and misconduct at the FBI lab raises more questions than it answers, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said today. The Justice Department's final report, released to the public today as a result of legal action brought by NACDL, identifies deficient work in the few high profile cases it analyzes, casting serious doubt on the integrity of the entire lab. Concentrating primarily on misconduct in only three departments -- the Explosives Unit, the Materials Analysis Unit, and the Chemistry-Toxicology Unit -- the edited 517-page report raises the specter of a national scandal of mammoth proportions. More 

Rush to Judgment By Congress Undermines Separation of Powers and Independent Judiciary -- Washington, DC (March 30, 1997) - Recent actions by Congress, and threats by Congressional leaders, to limit the Constitutional powers of federal judges "undermine America's cherished independence of the judiciary," Judy Clarke, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said in a letter to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in his capacity as head of the U.S. Judicial Conference, which oversees the federal courts. More 

Ruling in FBI Lab Report Case Is Victory for Due Process -- Washington, DC (March 17, 1997) - Persons unlawfully convicted in cases involving mishandled evidence from the FBI forensic science labs will have a full year from the release of the Justice Department's report on lab deficiencies and foul-ups to challenge their convictions, the government conceded in federal court today. That assurance from Justice Department lawyers, first confided to the court late-Friday evening, figured prominently in today's decision hold off on any emergency injunctive relief to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the lead plaintiff, in its Freedom of Information Act suit to force immediate public release of the Inspector General's critical draft report. Parts of that preliminary report already have made their way to Capitol Hill and to counsel in a few individual cases. More 

Congress Should Refrain from Meddling in Pending Criminal Cases -- Washington, DC (March 12, 1997) - It is improper, unwise and unconstitutional for Congress to pass special legislation to try to preside over pending criminal trials from Capitol Hill, the nations's criminal defense bar told the House Judiciary Committee in a letter today (click here for letter), as the panel prepares to rush through legislation directed at reversing rulings of two courts in the celebrated Oklahoma City bombing trial. More 

ABA Should 'Take All Appropriate Action' To Implement Death Penalty Moratorium -- Washington,DC (March 3, 1997) - The Board of Directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) expressed its support of the death penalty moratorium proposed by the American Bar Association earlier this month, and urged the ABA "to take all appropriate action with all deliberate speed to bring about its implementation." The Board unanimously passed its resolution at NACDL's Mid-Winter Meeting in New Orleans. More 

Court Action Commenced to Disclose Report Critical of FBI Lab -- Washington, DC (February 25, 1997) - "The first resort of tyrants is secrecy," said William B. Moffitt, Vice President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) at a press conference today after the Association filed suit to force disclosure of a government report critical of the FBI's crime lab. More   

 FBI Lab FOIA Suit Press Conference Tuesday, Feb. 25 -- Washington, DC (February 22, 1997) -The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) will file suit tomorrow under the Freedom of Information Act seeking expedited disclosure of the Justice Department's Inspector General report outlining serious problems in the FBI laboratory. More 

Justice Dept. Urged to Release FBI Lab Report -- Washington, DC (February 4, 1997) - Frustrated over the U.S. Justice Department's refusal to make public its Inspector General's report outlining serious problems with and within the FBI laboratory -- problems which could affect hundreds of individual cases across the country -- the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) today filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking its prompt release within 10 working days as required by law. More 

Statement of Judy Clarke President, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers On Settlement of Oklahoma Indigent Defense Funding Crisis -- Washington, DC (January 22, 1997) - The nation's criminal justice lawyers want to commend today's last minute agreement ensuring supplemental funding to keep the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System from descending into chaos. Facing imminent insolvency due to increased caseloads and last year's arbitrary funding cuts, Governor Keating and the legislative leadership became convinced that letting the system crash and burn would only lead to case dismissals, prisoner releases and a cascade of lawsuits This eliminates any need to challenge the state's failure to abide by the U.S. Constitution's requirement -- recognized for over a third of a century -- that counsel be provided to Americans who cannot afford lawyers when the state seeks to deprive them of their lives or liberty. NACDL particularly commends Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Charles Chapel and Vice Presiding Judge Charles Johnson for their efforts, and patience, in facilitating the negotiations. More 

Stop Courts from Inflicting Punishment for Unproven Crimes -- Washington, DC (January 7, 1997) - In the wake of yesterday's high-handed U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring federal judges to punish defendants even for crimes for which the jury found them not guilty, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers called on Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission to revise federal sentencing law to restore fundamental fairness to the American justice system. On the very same day it announced it would accept the case -- United States v. Watts -- the Court, acting in extraordinary fashion, issued its unsigned opinion without any formal briefing or oral argument, catching court observers by complete surprise. More 

Supreme Court Limits Unfair Prejudice in Gun Cases -- Washington, DC (January 7, 1997) - The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers applauds today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court limiting prosecutors' ability to introduce highly prejudicial or inflammatory evidence in federal prosecutions of convicted felons accused of possessing a firearm. The ruling conforms with the general rule which prohibits, in most cases, the prosecution from revealing facts about a defendant's prior record. More

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