Washington, DC (December 10, 2014) – Like much of the nation, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has noted the furor over recent cases in which unarmed black men were killed by law enforcement. While NACDL does not comment on pending investigations, as is the case on the federal level as respects the deaths of both Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the Association has long had concerns about the integrity of the grand jury process and the overwhelming influence of prosecutors over that process and its outcomes, and has long advocated for reform of the grand jury process to ensure fundamental fairness. See NACDL's Federal Grand Jury Reform Report & Bill of Rights (2000) and Evaluating Grand Jury Reform in Two States: The Case for Reform (2011).
The Introduction to the latter report identified a core problem of the modern American grand jury system, that grand jurors' independent exercise of their powers "is frequently superseded by prosecutorial influence, leading some to suggest that while 'the modern grand jury technically remains an independent body… as a practical matter, it relies heavily on the prosecutor to secure evidence and give the jurors legal advice.'" (citation omitted)
Building upon NACDL's leading role in addressing all manner of racial and ethnic disparities in America's criminal justice system, as described more fully below, today, NACDL President Theodore Simon announced that in the coming weeks NACDL will organize a publicly broadcast webinar on grand jury practice in America. "The rules of the road by which criminal charges are considered must be fair and transparent, and must be one that commands the respect of the entire public in all cases. The recent episodes in New York and Missouri provide ample justification for a national reconsideration of the grand jury process," Simon said.
In addition, NACDL's president announced that the Association will establish a working group to study and develop NACDL policy as respects police body cameras, to include investigation and recommendations as to their use (how, when, and under what circumstances), the storage and maintenance of those recordings, their accessibility as public records, and consideration of privacy rights.
NACDL has focused keenly in recent years on racial and ethnic disparity in the criminal justice system. Elements of NACDL's Racial Disparity Project included NACDL's co-sponsorship of a 2012 multi-day conference -- Criminal Justice in the 21st Century: Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparity in the Criminal Justice System, culminating with the release of a report and recommendations by the same name and a series of academic articles published in the New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, a podcast series on racial disparity in the criminal justice system, and a second conference in late 2013 addressing racial and ethnic implications of money bail, the pretrial process, stop & frisk, implicit bias in charge and case disposition, sentencing, and the collateral consequences of conviction. (free webcasts of all components are available here).
And in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., NACDL put together a free webinar (available on demand here) entitled Under Siege: The Defense Bar Examines Police Militarization, Ethnic & Racial Dynamics of Sentencing, and Their Impact on Criminal Justice Outcomes.
NACDL has long sought reforms of the criminal justice process to ensure accuracy and compliance with best practices in other areas as well. For example, NACDL has long supported the recordation of the entirety of custodial interrogation. In 2002, the Board of Directors adopted a resolution supporting "the videotaping of law enforcement interrogations from beginning to end and call[ing] upon Congress and state legislatures to pass legislation mandating this practice." And on December 20, 2013, NACDL, joined by 39 of its state-level affiliates, sent a letter to the FBI Director requesting reversal of the longstanding agency policy forbidding recordation. In May of 2014, the Department of Justice announced its new policy in creating a presumption in favor of recording custodial interrogations. NACDL also offers an online compendium available free to the public on the electronic recording of custodial interrogations.
In announcing the launch of NACDL's new grand jury and body camera initiatives today, NACDL President Theodore Simon added: "In the American Criminal Justice System, the nation's criminal defense lawyers are uniquely familiar with the injustices faced in that system by racial, religious, ethnic, sexual, and other minorities. NACDL has a long, proud, and daily history of fighting as Liberty's Last Champion for all people whose lives intersect with law enforcement. And NACDL will continue, without pause, to seek the reforms necessary to ensure fairness and due process in our criminal justice system for all those that are subject to criminal investigation and/or prosecution, free of bias or prejudice, as in the end a fair and constitutional process is what will protect all members of our society, regardless of their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, economic station, or other demographic characteristic. Indeed, it is the responsibility of all constituencies to expose and eliminate all such disparities in the criminal justice system."
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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 justice system.