News Release

Phil Cherner Receives the 2020 Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award from Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar

Washington, DC (Aug. 18, 2020) – On August 18, 2020, Phil Cherner, Board Chair of Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, was presented with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ (NACDL) Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award at NACDL's 19th Annual State Criminal Justice Network (SCJN) conference, which was held online this year. The award recognizes an individual or group whose tremendous efforts have fostered progressive reform of a state criminal justice system.

Following his graduation from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1975, Phil moved to Denver, Colorado and set up a law practice. After a few years in private criminal defense practice, Phil spent eight years as a Deputy State Public Defender in Colorado, where he tried over 80 felony jury trials and handled numerous appeals. Since then, he spent more than 30 years concentrating on high-level criminal defense in Denver, representing clients at the trial and appellate levels. In the late 1980s, he began teaching at the University of Denver Law School where he is currently an adjunct professor. His lectures focused on trial practice and professional responsibility. This expertise enabled him to branch into attorney grievance defense, representing lawyers and law students, in addition to criminal defendants.

In his primary practice of criminal defense, Phil tirelessly advocated for the repeal of the death penalty by serving as lead counsel on a death penalty post-conviction case and being a part of several other trial teams. In addition to defending his accused clients, he worked with the families of victims who were opposed to the death penalty by keeping them involved in legislative hearings and offering support throughout the emotional process. He joined the board of Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CADP) in 2010 where he helped bring a broad coalition of advocates together to work toward the repeal of the death penalty. Once Phil Cherner retired from the Denver office of Vicente Sederberg, LLC in 2017, he committed most of his time to chairing the board of CADP. In March of this year, Colorado became the 22nd state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to abolish or overturn the death penalty.

“Phil’s work as Board Chair of Coloradans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and in organizing stakeholders in successfully repealing the death penalty in Colorado will ensure that no one else will be subjected to a system fraught with injustice, error, and bias,” said NACDL Director of Advocacy Monica L. Reid. “The death penalty has always been, and continues to be, wielded against Black people and other people of color, who are more likely to be charged with capital murder, sentenced to death, and executed. NACDL is honored to present the Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award to Phil Cherner, for his diligent efforts in leading the movement in Colorado that will not only literally save lives, but also redress racial disparities in the application of the death penalty.”

 “Phil Cherner has continuously worked with a broad coalition of individuals and groups dedicated to the repeal of the death penalty,” said chair of NACDL’s State Legislative Affairs Committee Michael Iacopino. “This is perhaps best shown by his unique ability to not only defend the accused but to also work with the families of victims opposed to the death penalty, to keep them involved in the process and provide support in any way he can. NACDL has long called for a moratorium on and abolition of the death penalty in the U.S., and Phil Cherner’s ability to work with an array of voices was vital to repealing the death penalty in Colorado and has brought the U.S. a step closer to that goal.”

Phil Cherner grew up in Detroit and attended the University of Michigan for his undergraduate degree. He received his J.D. from Vanderbilt Law School in 1975. In addition to his work as an attorney, Phil is an avid photographer whose work has been recognized internationally and appeared in numerous publications.


Kate Holden, NACDL Public Affairs and Communications Assistant, (202) 465-7624 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 justice system.

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