San Francisco (July 28, 2012) – Richmond, Va. attorney Steven D. Benjamin was sworn in today as President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) at its 54th Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Mr. Benjamin has previously served the Association as its President-Elect, First- and Second Vice-President, Treasurer, and Secretary, as well as several terms on the Board of Directors.
Mr. Benjamin is an attorney in private practice with the Richmond, Va. firm of Benjamin & DesPortes. In addition to his private practice, he serves as Special Counsel to the Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee, and is a member of the Virginia Board of Forensic Science and the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission. A Past President of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a Fellow of the American Board of Criminal Lawyers, Mr. Benjamin is a 2003 recipient of the Virginia State Bar’s Lewis F. Powell Pro Bono Award and is a frequent national lecturer on criminal justice.
Much of his career has been devoted to criminal justice reform. As Special Counsel to the Virginia State Crime Commission, he assisted in the creation of Virginia’s Writs of Actual Innocence, and helped draft the procedure enacted by the Virginia General Assembly to restore appellate rights lost solely because of attorney error. When biological evidence was discovered in more than 20 years of old case files stored in Virginia’s crime laboratories, he helped persuade state political leadership to order statewide DNA testing. When the pace of that testing stalled, he worked to obtain the passage of legislation mandating effective notification of interested parties that this new evidence had been found.
Mr. Benjamin was counsel in the landmark Virginia Supreme Court decision recognizing a constitutional right to forensic expert assistance at state expense for indigent defendants. In other cases, he argued through the trial courts and on appeal that Virginia’s mandatory fee caps on compensation for court-appointed counsel deprived indigent defendants of conflict-free representation, and he led the litigation and legislative effort to abolish those caps. At the request of former Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leroy R. Hassell, Sr., Mr. Benjamin helped establish and chair an annual Advanced Indigent Defense Training Seminar to draw top lecturers from across the country to train Virginia’s defenders at no cost. With his longtime law partner Betty Layne DesPortes, he won the non-DNA exoneration and release of a man serving a life sentence for a murder he did not commit, and he argued in the United States Supreme Court that a Richmond trespassing policy violated the free speech rights of public housing residents.
Speaking to the Board of Directors and the assembled criminal defense bar in San Francisco, Mr. Benjamin outlined several goals for the Association and defense bar during his term:
- Training of the defense bar and collaboration with experts in the use of forensic science, emphasizing the reliability of science in the search for the truth. “Whether our defense is one of actual innocence, an affirmative defense, reasonable doubt, or a mitigating circumstance, scientific evidence is the most powerful proof available,” he said.
- Preservation of the right to be free from unreasonable searches and surveillance. Mr. Benjamin explained, “If we don’t act immediately, a right that defines this country – the right to be free of government drones and constant surveillance - will become a meaningless ideal we are powerless to enforce.”
- Renewal of the strength of the Sixth Amendment promise of counsel for all accused. Fifty years after the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, Mr. Benjamin sees the promise of equal justice under law as largely unfulfilled. “Our defenders still struggle with paltry resources, low pay, and crushing caseloads,” he said. “The promise of Gideon, it seems, might be the promise of a warm body with a law license and not much more. But it is because of who we are and our willingness to sacrifice in the service of others that the promise of Gideon has meaning and strength.”
Continuing his remarks, Mr. Benjamin spoke of the role and motivation of criminal defense lawyers. “We became lawyers because we believe in freedom, the inherent worth of the individual, and the fair and equal protection of the law. We became lawyers because we fear the unchecked power of government just as we fear the irrational hatred and blood lust of an angry mob. We became lawyers because we are incapable of walking away from injustice, and because we understand a moral obligation to stand up so that tyranny will never prevail.”
Mr. Benjamin’s telephone number is (804) 788-4444.
Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence: A Trial Strategy Guide
NACDL’s Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence will assist criminal defense practitioners in scoring points when cross-examining forensic experts in cases involving DNA and biological evidence. This resource contains thousands of questions that will help defense lawyers cross-examine challenging witnesses without reinventing the wheel with each new case. It includes pattern questions that can be used to dominate prosecution DNA experts and level the playing field at trial.
Cross-Examination of the Analyst in Drug Prosecutions (2nd Ed.) By James M. Shellow
Now in its second edition with some new material, James M. Shellow’s book offers what its title promises: ways of thinking about cross-examining the forensic analysts in drug cases. But the book is so much more than that. It offers a look inside the mind of one of the finest cross-examiners and defense lawyers the United States has produced in the last seventy years. This small book can inspire and direct you in making big changes in the way you defend your clients and think about the entire project of trying any case.
Justice For All, Justice Now White T-Shirt (Women’s)
This custom, vintage-faded NACDL t-shirt is 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon weighing 5.2 oz. and is lightwieght, flexible and soft, providing maximum comfort. It features the "Justice For All, Justice Now" slogan and Lady Liberty image on the front, with the NACDL logo on the back. Currently available in both men's and women's sizes in both black and white colors. View the full line-up of colors and sizes on our online store, as well as our other popular and best-selling t-shirt designs at: nacdl.org/store.
Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection - CD-ROM
NACDL’s Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection is the sweeping culmination of every single article of written materials ever published from each installment of NACDL's annual "Defending Modern Drug Cases" seminar. Totaling over 12,000 pages, this vast collection includes 12+ years of motions, briefs, reports, outlines, transcripts, case citations, scholarly articles, powerpoints and other written commentaries. This collection provides trial strategies and tactics you can immediately apply to your current cases.
Mental Illness & the Law: Addressing and Litigating Behavioral Health Disorders in Criminal Cases
Whether it is insanity, impairment, a disorder, or adolescent brain development; mental health and intellectual competence issues affect pretrial supervision, trial and sentencing, and your chances of successfully advocating for your impaired client. This training provides ideas and proven solutions to assist you in advocating for your client during trial, whether it be insanity defenses, jury selection, cross of expert witnesses, persuasion, or mitigation at sentencing.
NACDL Communications Department
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.