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May 31, 2013; Vol. 12 No. 5

NACDL Launches Publicly-Available Resource for Resisting and Challenging Excessive Sentences

On May 22, NACDL launched, as a resource for its members and as a service to the public, a collection of individual downloadable documents that summarize for each U.S. state the key doctrines and leading court rulings setting forth constitutional and statutory limits on lengthy imprisonment terms and other extreme (non-capital) sentences. The state profiles and related materials provide a detailed snapshot of existing proportionality doctrines and jurisprudence as of fall 2012. They are intended as a resource for practitioners in all phases of the criminal justice system, for sentencing and appellate courts, for policymakers and advocates concerned with the high economic and human costs of excessively long terms of imprisonment, and for defendants facing or serving extreme prison terms. The resource – Excessive Sentencing: NACDL’s Proportionality Litigation Project – is available at www.nacdl.org/excessivesentencing.

The primary academic supervisor of this resource is Professor Douglas A. Berman of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, who is also the creator, author and editor of the leading Sentencing Law and Policy Blog, an affiliate of the Law Professor Blogs Network. He is also the co-author of the case book, Sentencing Law and Policy: Cases, Statutes and Guidelines. Professor Berman intends to update these materials regularly as developments in the law warrant and new information becomes available.


Bipartisan Effort Establishes House Judiciary Committee Overcriminalization Task Force

On May 7, the House Committee on the Judiciary voted unanimously to create the “Overcriminalization Task Force of 2013.” According to Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), “The task force will be authorized for six months and will be led by Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member Bobby Scott.” It will “conduct hearings and investigations and issue a report on overcriminalization in the federal code, as well as possible solutions.” The task force is made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, and will include Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI) and Chairman Goodlatte as ex-officio members.

At a press briefing to announce the Overcriminalization Task Force’s creation, Judiciary Committee and Task Force leaders spoke about the need to address issues such as the erosion of the mens rea requirement in federal criminal law, the often unnecessary duplication of state law in the federal code, extreme overincarceration, and the explosion of regulatory offenses that some estimate may now number as high as 300,000. Members also expressed the need to address mandatory minimum sentences. NACDL has long focused on the problem of overcriminalization. To learn more about NACDL’s efforts, please visit www.nacdl.org/overcrim.


NACDL Strongly Urges Follow-Through on Guantanamo Closure

Following President Obama’s major foreign policy speech on May 23, NACDL is optimistic about President Obama’s recommitment to closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Guantanamo and indefinite detention are failures on this country’s counterterrorism record and as with all failed policies these must come to an end. NACDL agrees with President Obama that Guantanamo is unnecessary and too costly. It also undermines the rule of law. NACDL will do whatever it can to assist the President in achieving this goal because closing the facility makes sound legal and economic sense.

Since late last year, the President has had the ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo by using a waiver provision granted him by Congress in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. While it is important for the President and Congress to work together on closing Guantanamo, it is also important that the President use all of the tools already at his disposal. NACDL encourages President Obama and Secretary Hagel to work together to get waivers signed and men out of Guantanamo. NACDL also commends the President for reevaluating the situation in Yemen and moving towards sending those men home.

Texas Makes Progress on Discovery Reform; Governor Signs Michael Morton Act into Law

On May 16, in the week that marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the State of Texas took a significant step toward the realization of the promise of Brady. On that date, Governor Perry signed into law Senate Bill 1611 – The Michael Morton Act. This bill delivers positive change to discovery in criminal cases in Texas. The new law codifies that the prosecution should make available to the defense, automatically upon request, all police offense reports and witness statements in their files. Upon the signing into law of the Michael Morton Act, NACDL President Steven D. Benjamin said: “NACDL supports these efforts, and the NACDL Task Force on Discovery Reform is developing model legislation to aid legislators in 50 states to ensure fair disclosure and due process for those accused of crime.” To learn more about discovery reform and NACDL’s work in this area, please visit www.nacdl.org/discoveryreform.


Willie Jerome Manning Granted Stay of Execution by Mississippi Supreme Court

Just hours before his scheduled execution at 6 p.m. on May 7, the Mississippi Supreme Court granted Willie Jerome Manning a stay of execution, “pending further Order of this Court.” Significant doubt had been raised concerning the forensic evidence used to convict Mr. Manning of murdering two university students in 1992. Specifically, attorneys for Mr. Manning directed the Court to three recent Department of Justice letters, the first of which, dated May 2, set forth that “we have determined that testimony containing erroneous statements regarding microscopic hair comparison analysis was used in this case.” On the day the stay was issued, NACDL issued a statement that “NACDL is pleased that the disclosure of problematic forensic testimony prompted the Mississippi Supreme Court to stay Mr. Manning’s execution and allow the judicial process to continue.” A complete copy of the order, including Presiding Justice Randolph’s dissent, is available here.

Legislative Tracking and Member Engagement

Congress is currently introducing new legislation on a daily basis, as it does every year around this time. NACDL is monitoring proposed legislation important to the criminal justice field and encourages members to do so as well.

To view a list of legislation currently being tracked by NACDL, click here. This page allows users to search for other federal legislation by bill number or keyword. Users can also contact elected officials to voice support or opposition to legislation by clicking on the bill name, entering their zip code in the ‘Take Action’ box in the right corner, and clicking ‘Go.’ NACDL updates this list often, so please check back regularly to stay informed about upcoming legislation!


Safety Valve Legislation Advocacy Still Needed

Bipartisan safety valve legislation – the Justice Safety Valve Act – has been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate. If enacted, this legislation would create a broad safety valve that would allow judges to sentence federal offenders below the mandatory minimum sentence in such instances where the minimum term does not fulfill the goals of punishment, such as keeping the public safe, providing a just punishment for the crime, providing rehabilitation, and deterring others from committing crimes. NACDL has asked members to send letters of support to their Senators urging co-sponsorship of the legislation, and now asks members to do the same with their Representative. Please click here to let elected officials know that you support this important information and that they should, too.


12th Annual State Criminal Justice Network Conference to Be Held July 25-26, 2013 in San Francisco

The 12th Annual State Criminal Justice Network (SCJN) Conference, “Turning the Tide: Victories and Opportunities in Criminal Justice Reform,” will take place July 25-26, 2013, in San Francisco in conjunction with NACDL’s Annual Meeting. The goal of this conference is to examine significant legislative victories and utilize them for further efforts, as public opinion increasingly reflects support for criminal justice reform.

The conference will feature panels on: protecting the Fourth Amendment, indigent defense, social media, overincarceration, race in the criminal justice system, juvenile justice post-Miller and Graham, and the collateral consequences of a conviction. On Friday, July 26, the SCJN will feature the documentary entitled Broken on All Sides, a film that focuses on mass incarceration across the nation and the intersection of race and poverty within the criminal justice system. The trailer is available here. The SCJN Conference is also pleased to feature the following special guests: Susan Burton, Executive Director of A New Way of Life and CNN Hero; Matt Pillischer, Director of the documentary film Broken on All Sides; and Nancy Mullane, author of Life After Murder, as well as subjects in her book who will share insights into their lives post murder/conviction-incarceration-parole process. More information about special guests and the overall conference is available here.

Deadline Extended: State Legislative Affairs Committee Accepting Applications for 2013 Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award

The State Legislative Affairs Committee has extended the deadline to receive nominations for the 2013 Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award. The award recognizes an individual or group whose exceptional efforts have led to positive changes to reform a state criminal justice system. The new deadline to submit nominations is June 14, 2013. The 2013 criteria sheet can be downloaded here. Please submit materials to Elsa Ohman at eohman@nacdl.org. The award will be presented on Thursday July 25, 2013, at the SCJN conference.

National Advocacy Call on Developing Legislation

Please join NACDL for an advocacy call on Tuesday, June 5 at 12:00 p.m. EDT. The call will feature experts discussing resentencing issues in Juvenile Life without Parole (JLWOP) cases. To RSVP, please send an email to scjn@nacdl.org.

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