News Release

Groundbreaking New Conference Report: Judicial Responsibility for Justice in Criminal Courts

Washington, DC (Dec. 7, 2017) – On April 6 and 7, 2017, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the Foundation for Criminal Justice, the Monroe Freedman Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics at Hofstra University's Maurice A. Deane School of Law, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Center for Court Innovation, and the State of New York Unified Court System convened a conference designed to explore the impediments to and reforms needed to ensure effective justice in all stages of the criminal process, with a particular focus on the judicial role in high-volume misdemeanor courts. The conference took place at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. The conference assembled judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, scholars, and criminal justice policy experts to identify practical reforms to improve the quality of justice in state and local criminal justice systems.

This report – Judicial Responsibility for Justice in Criminal Courts – shares discussions and recommendations that emerged from the conference's presentations, panels, and work groups. Conference participants generated many proposals for specific reforms that judges can implement to improve the delivery of justice in misdemeanor courts. These important recommendations are detailed in the report and address numerous areas, including:

  • Procedural Justice
  • Judicial Control Over Bail
  • Pleas at Initial Appearance
  • Collateral Consequences
  • Courts Without Counsel
  • Implicit Bias
  • Judicial Intervention in Charging Decisions
  • Judicial Involvement in Plea Bargaining and Discovery
  • Control over Conduct of Counsel
  • Bench and Jury Trial Issues
  • Sentencing
  • Changing Court Culture

"NACDL has long been committed to working with all stakeholders in the criminal justice system in order to ensure the protection of the constitutional rights of all persons accused of criminal wrongdoing in our nation's courts," said NACDL President Rick Jones. "This unique and groundbreaking conference, and the critically important conference report that is being released today, represents exactly the type of collaboration among stakeholders that can have tangible, meaningful, and lasting effects that will improve the quality of justice in the nation's criminal courts."

"We all understand that the crisis in our misdemeanor courts stems from many factors: lack of adequate funding, over-prosecution, overcriminalization, and over-reliance on bail, fees, and fines," said NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer. "Until now, most reform efforts have focused on law enforcement, prosecutors, and defense lawyers. But we have overlooked the critical role judges can play in addressing this crisis. This report shows how the judiciary can be the catalysts for reform. This report offers a roadmap for that role."

"We are optimistic that this groundbreaking conference will set the stage for similar conferences around the nation," said Professor Ellen Yaroshefsky, Howard Lichtenstein Distinguished Professor of Legal Ethics and Executive Director, Monroe H. Freedman Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics, Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. "And we hope that this report will help begin a national conversation about the issues and specific recommendations in the report to improve the quality of justice delivered by judges, even in overburdened and underfunded state and local criminal justice systems."

This report was prepared by Professor Andrea M. Marsh, Lecturer at the University of Texas School of Law. It is available for download at

NACDL is a participating organization on the steering committee of the Right to Counsel National Campaign.

This project was supported by a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Ivan Dominguez, NACDL Director of Public Affairs and 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.