Incoming Criminal Defense Bar President Decries Injustices in Legal System
War on Drugs ‘Elitist, Racist and Hypocritical’
Washington, DC (August 24, 2000) -- Incoming President Edward A. Mallett of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers targeted criminal laws which are “elitist, racist, and hypocritical” in his inaugural remarks at the NACDL’s annual convention in La Jolla, California last week.
A prominent criminal defense attorney in Houston, TX, Mallett decried elected officials who pander to interest groups by hastily passing poorly-studied changes in criminal laws. “There is nothing scarier than a large group of ignorant unenlightened and influential people acting together,” he said. He noted that the “Principle of Unanticipated Consequences” often leads to gross injustices, adding that “history proves that criminal laws will never eliminate broad social problems — alcohol prohibition is one example, and marijuana prohibition another.”
Mallett focused on the need for universal, on-demand DNA testing to protect innocent citizens who are falsely accused. He pointed out that over half the people sent to death row from 1980-2000 have been awarded new trials. Seven percent were found innocent and, on review, the facts of the reversed convictions did not justify the death penalty in 82% of the cases. “If only 5% of America’s prison population is innocent, over 200,000 law-abiding people are behind bars,” he observed.
America’s multibillion-dollar War on Drugs was termed “... elitist, because rich people go to the Betty Ford clinic while poor people go to jail; racist, because African-Americans constitute just 13% of drug users but 62% of America’s drug prisoners; hypocritical, because many politicians who support mandatory, career-ending and family-destroying jail terms for recreational use and distribution, were drug users themselves when young; and stupid, because we keep spending billions on failed policies, putting hundreds of thousands of Americans in jail when they should be attending college and spending time with their children.”
Turning to sex offender legislation, Mallett pointed out that states are being required by the federal government to pass laws creating retroactive, lifetime photo-publication of offenders on the Internet as a condition for receiving “trickle down” federal funds. His own state of Texas now provides for an automatic life sentence for a 21-year old who has sex with a 16-year old on two occasions — even if the second occurs before conviction on the first. Other federally-mandated laws permit lifetime incarceration in mental institutions after an offender is found suitable for release on parole. Mallett blasted courts for taking the position that these are “health and safety” regulations when really they are unconstitutional ex post facto laws. He said that the proliferating sex offender laws and regulations “violate the fundamental Judeo-Christian concept that individuals can change for the better.”
Addressing society’s obligation to provide high quality lawyers, when needed, to both rich and poor, Mallett stated that the goals of the NACDL include parity between public defenders and court-appointed counsel on the one hand, and prosecutors on the other — in terms of compensation, resources, and caseloads.
Mallett graduated from Dartmouth College and received his law degree from the University of Texas. He was an adjunct law professor for 10 years at the University of Houston and, for more than 12 years, has served on the faculty of the prestigious National Criminal Defense College in Macon, GA.
Previously, Mallett has served as President of Houston’s 400-member Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association (1978-9), as well as President of the 2000-member Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (1989-90). He has been certified as a criminal law specialist by the State Bar of Texas and was elected to the American Board of Criminal Lawyers in 1988. While serving as President of the 10,400-member NACDL, Mallett will continue his practice of white collar, homicide, narcotics, grand jury and other criminal defense matters, as a partner of the Houston law firm of Mandell & Wright, LLP.