News Release

Nation's Criminal Defense Bar Launches Effort to Provide Pro Bono Counsel to Protesters

Washington, DC (Sept. 19, 2017) – The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has a long tradition of fighting to protect constitutional principles and standing up for the individual against the government. In keeping with that tradition, the Foundation for Criminal Justice (FCJ) and NACDL have established the First Amendment Strike Force and Mass Defense Unit.

The goal of this project is to provide qualified counsel to represent protesters when the exercise of First Amendment rights results in arrest and prosecution. Specifically, NACDL supports a cadre of criminal defense lawyers who will be available to provide pro bono assistance to protesters throughout the country in the event of mass arrests. For those lawyers who volunteer, NACDL will maintain a database of available counsel and provide training and support at no cost.

"One of the things that spurred the creation of this Strike Force is the fact that there are now demonstrations everywhere; it's a very volatile time," said Foundation for Criminal Justice (FCJ) President Gerald B. Lefcourt. "What concerns us is that people have to know that their rights to protest – and that's wherever they come from, right wing, left wing, what have you – are protected. And there is nobody better positioned to protect people's right to protest on the street than criminal defense lawyers. Protesters should be secure knowing that if they wish to engage in protest, they will be protected from improper intimidation, protected from improper prosecution, and protected from worse things, like beatings."

"It is in the greatest tradition of the nation's criminal defense bar to stand up during times like these on behalf of people in America exercising their First Amendment rights, just as they are standing up for that which they believe," said NACDL President Rick Jones. "One need only turn on the evening news to see profound levels of civic engagement, the likes of which we haven't seen in this nation in a generation or two. People are standing up to police brutality, government overreach, voter disenfranchisement, blatant disregard for the rule of law, and a whole host of other issues affecting the daily lives of millions of people."

While the charges brought to date against most protesters are often relatively minor, the consequences of a criminal record have never been greater in American society. Irrespective of political ideology, the right to protest and to petition the government for a redress of grievances are the foundation of American democracy. People who are charged with criminal offenses while standing up for their principles should receive vigorous representation. 

Lawyers wishing to volunteer, please send an email to providing your bar number and indicating the state(s) in which you are admitted and are willing to provide pro bono assistance in the event of arrests related to mass protests.

Individuals seeking the assistance of the First Amendment Strike Force and Mass Defense Unit should also reach out via email to

Here is a link to a short podcast so that you can hear from a handful of the volunteer attorneys who are making this important project possible as they explain why it is that they are giving of their time and expertise for this important effort.

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Ivan J. Dominguez, NACDL Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 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 legal system.