Denver, CO (July 24, 2015) — Marissa McCall Dodson, Policy Director and Attorney at the Georgia Justice Project (GJP), is being honored today with the National Association of Criminal Justice Lawyers' (NACDL) Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award at NACDL's 14th Annual State Criminal Justice Network conference in Denver, Colo. The Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award recognizes an individual or group who has made exceptional efforts advocating for progressive reform of a state's criminal justice system.
Ms. Dodson is receiving this award as a result of her tireless efforts to lobby Georgia's legislature to reform its reentry policies. Her work proved successful with the passing of a number of bills which overhauled the state's record restriction (expungement) law, eliminated the automatic suspension of driver's licenses for certain drug convictions, provided protections for employers being sued for negligent hiring or retention due to an employee's criminal background, and required anyone facing criminal charges to be informed of their eligibility for the state's First Offender Act, among other provisions. She has led two successful "Enhance the Chance" Lobby Days at the Georgia State Capitol where individuals with a criminal history and their families have spoken to lawmakers about the challenges they face. Most recently, she served as a lead advocate to successfully lobby Governor Nathan Deal to issue an executive order to ban-the-box, a fair hiring practice which removes criminal history questions from the initial state employment application. The Governor signed the order on February 23, 2015.
Ms. Dodson started her legal career as an Equal Justice Fellow at GJP where she developed the "Coming Home Program," which combats employment, housing, and education restrictions faced by those with a criminal history through direct service, education, and legislative advocacy.
She has also been a powerful advocate for indigent individuals in the Atlanta region, where she continues to represent those facing felony and misdemeanor charges. In one memorable case, Ms. Dodson represented a man charged with eleven counts, including murder, even while her organization was reluctant to take on such a serious case. Nevertheless, she was convinced that her client was innocent, and he was eventually acquitted of all charges.
NACDL's Director of State Legislative Affairs and Special Projects Angelyn Frazer said: "Marissa's unyielding drive to reform Georgia's criminal justice system and to ease the transition for individuals with a criminal record to reenter society clearly demonstrates her passion for ensuring fairness in an uphill battle against an often unjust system. In addition, NACDL is very pleased that Marissa's reform efforts parallel many of the recommendations in our groundbreaking Collateral Damage report. She is a determined, dedicated leader in her community, and I am proud to present her this award on behalf of NACDL's State Criminal Justice Network."
Ms. Dodson received her J.D. and Bachelor of Civil Law magna cum laude from Louisiana State University Law Center in 2008, and graduated cum laude from Spelman College in 2005 with a major in Political Science and a minor in U.S. History. A native of Ontario, California, Ms. Dodson lives with her husband and five-year-old son in Marietta, Georgia.
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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 legal system.