News Release

Bryan Stevenson Receives Lifetime Achievement Award from the Nation's Criminal Defense Bar

Washington, DC (Sept. 21, 2020) — Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), was awarded the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) Lifetime Achievement Award on September 17, 2020, by NACDL President Christopher W. Adams during the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice (NFCJ) virtual gala, Justice for All. Justice Now. NACDL’s Lifetime Achievement Awards are presented in recognition of exceptional accomplishments over a lifetime of distinguished leadership and service on behalf of the law.

“When I think of Bryan, I think of the first time I saw him. I was a young public defender at an NACDL conference in Boston, Massachusetts and this death penalty lawyer from Montgomery was introduced and for the next hour I had nothing short of an emotional experience,” said NACDL President Christopher Adams. “There’s no doubt when I became a full-time capital defense lawyer at the Southern Center of Human Rights in 2000, one of the reasons for that was the impact Bryan had on me.”

Bryan Stevenson is a leader in the fight to overhaul the system of mass incarceration in this country by dedicating his life and career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned in our society, and by tirelessly fighting the racism and inequality imbedded in every structure in America. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a human rights organization in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Stevenson has argued and won multiple cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, including a 2019 ruling protecting condemned prisoners who suffer from dementia and a landmark 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger. Mr. Stevenson and the staff of EJI have won reversals, relief or release from prison for over 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced.

“It is not right that when we go into court with accused, who are people of color, that they do not enjoy a presumption of Innocence. And our job, our work, has been complicated by this inverse to the way we were taught it in law school, where we now have to prove innocence, we have to prove all of these things that our constitution guarantees. That is why I believe the work of the criminal defense bar in this country, the work of NACDL, is so critical. It has never been more urgent,” said Bryan Stevenson upon receiving the award. “One of the problems with the administration of criminal law in this country right now is that our courts are more committed to finality than they are to fairness.”

Outside of his legal work, Mr. Stevenson helped found two highly acclaimed cultural sites which opened in 2018, The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The new national landmark institutions chronicle the legacy of slavery, lynching and racial segregation and the connection to mass incarceration and contemporary issues of racial bias. Mr. Stevenson’s work has won him numerous awards including over 40 honorary doctorates, the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize and the ABA Medal, the American Bar Association’s highest honor. He is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government and the author of the award-winning New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy, which was recently adapted as a major motion picture.


Kate Holden, NACDL Public Affairs and Communications Assistant, (202) 465-7624 or

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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