NACDL President Steven D. Benjamin Testifies at Inaugural Congressional Overcriminalization Task Force Hearing; Calls for Reforms, Stresses Importance of Funding for Federal Indigent Defense
The Congressional Task Force on Overcriminalization, which was created on May 7 by a unanimous vote of the House Committee on the Judiciary, held its first hearing on June 14. The task force – composed of five Democrats and five Republicans – will “conduct hearings and investigations and issue a report on overcriminalization in the federal code, as well as possible solutions.”
NACDL President Steven D. Benjamin was one of four witnesses at the June 14 hearing. In his presentation, Benjamin discussed the problems of the volume and poorly drafted nature of criminal laws, many lacking adequate mens rea requirements. And he called the Task Force’s attention to the scope and impact of the collateral consequences of a criminal record. Benjamin also discussed the explosion in regulatory offenses as well as how unlimited discretion over charging decisions, together with mandatory minimum sentences and high sentencing guidelines, “deter the accused from asserting their innocence or testing new laws before a jury of their peers.” Benjamin made it clear that overcriminalization “is not just a problem with white collar implications.” Pointing to the consequences of overcriminalization, particularly upon the poor, Benjamin called upon Congress to address the crisis in funding for federal indigent defense.
A live webcast of the full hearing, the written testimony of NACDL President Steve Benjamin, and the testimony of the other witnesses are available here.
NACDL Sounds Alarm Over Inadequate Funding and Independence of the Federal Indigent Defense System
Following deep funding cuts that began before the federal sequester and were increased after the sequester took effect, the nation’s federal indigent defense system is in crisis. These cuts are having a devastating effect on the nation’s federal defenders, and delayed payments are inflicting extraordinary hardship on the small firm and solo practitioners who provide indigent defense services through a panel appointment system. And now, another serious blow has been delivered to federal indigent defense.
Last week, America’s federal indigent defense system, known as the Office of Defender Services (ODS), was demoted. NACDL has a long and proud history of supporting the independence of the judiciary, as well as appropriate compensation for our nation’s judges and resources for our nation’s court system. But it cannot remain silent. ODS not only continues to lack institutional independence, which is critical to our adversarial system and the proper administration of justice, but has now been demoted to subordinate entity status within the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.
Read NACDL’s complete June 25, 2013 statement here.
12th Annual State Criminal Justice Network Conference to be Held July 25-26, 2013 in San Francisco
Early Bird registration for the 12th Annual State Criminal Justice Network (SCJN) Conference, “Turning the Tide: Victories and Opportunities in Criminal Justice Reform,” ends Saturday, June 29. 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 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 the conference is available here.
Group Admission to the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court
NACDL is sponsoring a unique opportunity for up to 12 members to participate in a group admission ceremony to the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. This opportunity will be available to the first 12 qualified members on a first-come, first-served basis and will take place on the morning of January 13, 2014. Members will be responsible for their own travel arrangements, must be in good standing with a state bar for a minimum of three years, and must submit their completed application materials to NACDL by November 8, 2013.
Interested members should contact Elsa-Maria Ohman, NACDL’s National Affairs Assistant, at (202) 465-7638 or firstname.lastname@example.org for further instructions.
Safety Valve Legislation Gaining Attention; Still Needs your Support!
On June 23rd, the New York Times Editorial Board strongly supported the passage of the bipartisan Justice Safety Valve Act. The Justice Safety Valve Act would allow federal judges greater flexibility in sentencing for the 195 federal crimes that carry mandatory minimums. The Times sees safety valve legislation as part of the solution to the growing cost of incarceration to taxpayers and prison overcrowding.
NACDL encourages members to send letters to their Senators and Representative urging co-sponsorship and support of safety valve legislation. Please click here to let elected officials know that you support this important Act and that they should, too. Doing so will take less than one minute of your time, but could mean the difference of years in the life of another.
Efforts to Close Guantanamo
In mid-June, the House passed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). An annual bill which functions as an authorization for later appropriations measures for the Department of Defense, the NDAA is a central focus of NACDL’s National Security Project. The House maintained harmful provisions aimed at keeping the Guantanamo detention facility open, as well as prohibitions on the transfer of detainees to the U.S., even for prosecution. The Senate Armed Services Committee released a summary of its bill in late June. NACDL is happy to note that the Committee’s bill is a first step forward in relaxing the transfer restrictions for GTMO detainees. NACDL will continue to monitor the NDAA and seek legislative changes to permit the transfer of the 166 men currently held at Guantanamo to the U.S. for prosecution or repatriation abroad.
NSA Surveillance Reform Efforts
Following disclosure of the broad government surveillance program under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, several members of Congress introduced proposals to reign in the executive’s power and provide strict oversight of surveillance activities. Senators Wyden and Udall, who first sounded the alarm about the secret government programs during renewal of the FISA Amendments Act in 2012, introduced a bill to limit the federal government's ability to collect data on Americans without a demonstrated link to terrorism or espionage.
FBI Director Reveals Use of Domestic Drones
On June 19, during an FBI oversight hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Mueller testified that the FBI uses surveillance drones in the United States. He further testified that the Bureau is in the early stages of drafting guidelines for such domestic drone use. NACDL recently released model drone legislation that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before a surveillance drone may be used to gather evidence of a crime, except in very limited circumstances. NACDL will share this proposal with the FBI and work with members of Congress to pass legislation regulating the use of domestic surveillance drones.
State Legislative Affairs Committee Selects 2013 State Criminal Justice Reform Award
The State Legislative Affairs Committee has selected Peter Wagner, an attorney and Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, as the recipient of the 2013 State Criminal Justice Reform Award.
Wagner writes, teaches, and lectures around the country about mass incarceration's profound impact on our national welfare. His report, “Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in New York,” launched the national movement to end prison gerrymandering more than a decade ago, and he is the leading national expert on how the Census Bureau's method of tabulating incarcerated populations distorts state and local democracy.
He is also the author or co-author of cutting edge research on other criminal justice topics, including: “The Prison Index: Taking the Pulse of the Crime Control Industry,” “The Geography of Punishment: How Huge Sentencing Enhancement Zones Harm Communities, Fail to Protect Children,” and “Please Deposit All of Your Money: Kickbacks, Rates, and Hidden Fees in the Jail Phone Industry.”
The award will be presented at the State Criminal Justice Network Conference in San Francisco on Thursday, July 26.
National Advocacy Calls on Developing Legislation
On Wednesday, June 5 NACDL held an advocacy call featuring a discussion of sentencing and re-sentencing Juvenile Life without Parole (JLWOP) cases post-Miller. You can listen to the call here.