News Release

Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar Launches Full Disclosure Project to Enable Defenders to Overcome Law Enforcement Secrecy Laws and Expose Misconduct

Washington, DC (Sept. 23, 2020) – In the midst of a critically important national conversation about systemic racism, social justice, and police accountability, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) today announces the launch of the Full Disclosure Project to disrupt the culture of secrecy that shields law enforcement misconduct. This NACDL Project will utilize the groundbreaking CAPstat database application developed by The Legal Aid Society’s Cop Accountability Project, which empowers organizations and communities across New York City to hold police officers accountable for human rights violations. 

A culture of secrecy systematically and pervasively shields police misconduct in the United States. Failure to expose misconduct, excessive use of force, and abusive behavior contaminates the criminal legal systems. It leaves the most abusive police officers free to harm individuals and allows everyday police harassment and rights violations in communities to go unchecked. Anchored by the fundamental belief that secrecy makes us less secure, the Full Disclosure Project aims to combat police impunity by overturning police secrecy laws while empowering the defense community to track police misconduct. 

“As the nation has witnessed in the context of several high-profile cases of police misconduct in recent months and years, a singularly important, persistent, and corrosive problem throughout the nation’s criminal justice systems has been the lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to law enforcement misconduct,” said NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer. “Each instance in which police misconduct is shielded from view by the courts, defense counsel, the public, and even prosecutors, sets the stage for yet another miscarriage of justice.  NACDL’s Full Disclosure Project will empower courts, lawyers, and the public to properly and effectively discharge their intended role in ensuring that all necessary safeguards are in place to protect the rights of the accused and to maintain the integrity of the truth-seeking mission of criminal proceedings in our legal system.”

The project will assist defense organizations in jurisdictions across the country to track, aggregate, and analyze bad acts by individual officers and units. The databases can host data from a wide range of both public and legally privileged sources, including judicial decisions, lawsuits, community complaints, and body cam videos. The data will be immediately and easily accessible to defense attorneys, ensuring that police conduct in every case is scrutinized from the first appearance. The information can be utilized at every phase of a case to materially alter outcomes by showing courts and prosecutors that key witnesses in their cases lack credibility or have engaged in a pattern of misconduct.

“Support for this project reflects a growing commitment throughout society that the days of undisclosed and unchecked law enforcement misconduct must end,” said NACDL President Chris Adams. “This Project will provide a transformational tool to the criminal legal system to advance that goal. The willingness of the Legal Aid Society to share this platform and the expansion of its availability throughout the nation mark a turning point in the effort to secure transparency.”

The defense databases will eventually support public online databases in collaboration with academic institutions and press entities, implementing a Law Enforcement Accountability Network.

“The formation of defender and public databases create a political dynamic, a ‘virtuous cycle’ of reform, that will induce prosecutors, courts, impacted community groups, legislators and other stakeholders to lift the shroud of secrecy which surrounds law enforcement misconduct,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, past president of NACDL, and NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice trustee.

NACDL will provide defense entities with direct support, training manuals, and technical assistance in implementing the application. NACDL will also provide litigation support for obtaining the misconduct information and skills training for trial-level criminal defense attorneys so they can maximize the value of the information. NACDL plans to work with defender offices, innocence organizations, and other NGOs and professional entities to acquire and track relevant data, and will work with state and local partners to repeal secrecy laws and promote efforts to “de-certify” officers who engage in serious misconduct.

Julie Ciccolini has been appointed the Director of Law Enforcement Accountability and will oversee the Full Disclosure Project. Julie developed the database application that NACDL will utilize in her previous role at The Legal Aid Society. Julie was an integral part of The Legal Aid Society’s seminal Cop Accountability Project database which revolutionized practice, helped promote a movement to repeal police secrecy and inspired the national vision for this project.

To learn more about the Project, please visit: https://www.nacdl.org/FullDisclosure. Organizations interested in working with NACDL can join the September 30 virtual launch to learn more by registering here.

Contacts

Ivan Dominguez, NACDL Senior Director of Public Affairs and Communications, (202) 465-7662 or idominguez@nacdl.org

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.