As President of the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice (NFCJ) and a Past President of NACDL, I want to take this opportunity to let you all know how much the leadership and staff of the NFCJ and NACDL and I are thinking about you, your families, and your clients. We are all working at a breakneck pace on multiple fronts to ensure that in this time of global crisis NACDL, with support from the Foundation, is providing maximum support to help you help your clients, in addition to NACDL’s direct advocacy on behalf of the more than two million incarcerated individuals in this country who are in great danger during this pandemic.
I am thinking about public defenders and their struggle to maintain contact with their clients and advocate on their behalf under these extraordinarily challenging circumstances – public defenders that in good times are overburdened and under-resourced in large parts of the United States. I am thinking about the private practitioners, be they solo, small firm, or larger, some of whom are facing existential challenges to their practices. And I am thinking about a criminal justice system predicated upon mass incarceration that is facing a reckoning. The approach of warehousing masses of people, disproportionately people of color, for irrational periods of time and the accompanying destruction of innumerable families and communities, is now revealing an entirely new dimension to the inherent defects of the American system of justice – it has set the stage for a humanitarian catastrophe.
In an effort to address this, NACDL and its partners are recruiting attorneys to work on compassionate release motions for those inmates most vulnerable to COVID-19: the elderly and chronically ill. Thank you to the many of you who have already stepped up to volunteer in this effort. NACDL is continuing its recruitment effort and you can volunteer by completing this compassionate release volunteer form. You will be notified when the training materials are available. Please share this link and help recruit others as well.
NACDL’s professional staff, with contributions not only from members, but from others across the criminal justice community, has built a very helpful coronavirus resource section of the website which I highly recommend to you. From sample motions, briefs, and affidavits, to tracking resources concerning changes at state and federal courts, jails, and prisons, you will find a lot there to help in your advocacy for your clients. Indeed, one item just posted to the resource is a March 31, 2020, Order from Judge Furman in the Southern District of New York in the matter of United States v. Nkanga in which he calls for sweeping action from congressional and executive branch authorities in lieu of the piecemeal approach of the judiciary handling each case individually, given the circumstances. In that Order, in footnote four, Judge Furman also signals the value of the avenue of seeking “compassionate relief under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) or temporary release by the BOP pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3622.” Then on April 1, also in the Southern District of New York, Judge Torres ordered immediate compassionate release in United States v. Wilson Perez, holding that requiring exhaustion "would be directly contrary to the purpose of identifying and releasing individuals whose circumstances are 'extraordinary and compelling.'" This is the sort of useful content, and so much more, that is now available in NACDL’s coronavirus resource.
As nothing is going to stop criminal defense lawyers from always stepping up their game, NACDL’s Continuing Legal Education Institute continues to offer a wealth of educational resources to the bar. Indeed, NACDL just launched Forensic Science in Criminal Law: A 10-Episode Web Series to rave reviews, as well as a new web series, CLE Without Contact, which is a weekly interview and lecture-style web series hosted by forensic scientist Laura Schile. The first episode of this web series focuses on The Similarities of DNA Transfer and COVID-19 Transfer, and is available now. And tomorrow, Friday, April 3, NACDL’s Resource Center Team will be hosting its first live webinar at 1 pm EST focusing on how to navigate and make the most of NACDL’s new Resource Center. The webinar will also be available in Resource Center Media afterwards. To join that webinar, please click here. If you would like to submit questions or feedback beforehand, please complete the survey here: Resource Center Webinar Survey.
We are all in this together. We here at the NFCJ and NACDL will continue to work tirelessly to provide you with the support, advocacy, and practice resources you have come to rely upon. But we need your help, too. 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 tax-deductible donation.
Best wishes to you and yours,
Lisa M. Wayne
President, NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice
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