The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), an organization of more than 9,000 criminal defense professionals, endeavors to ensure fairness to all in the criminal justice system. As the nation moves forward on criminal justice reform, the work of the NACDL and its members matters now more than ever.
According to its website, the NACDL "is the pre-eminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing." Founded in 1958, the NACDL has members in 28 countries, as well as affiliate organizations at the state, local and provincial level that total over 40,000 attorneys.
The NACDL's stated mission is to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime, to foster the integrity, independence and expertise of the criminal defense profession, and promote the proper and fair administration of justice.
Ensuring justice and due process for persons accused of crime can be a tall order, however. The NACDL and its dedicated members aim to level the playing field by advocating in legislative sessions as well as in court. The group regularly provides reports on the state of modern criminal jurisprudence, such as the "Federal Indigent Defense 2015" report. Members also contribute to amicus briefs filed by the NACDL in cases of significant import to criminal justice.
Perhaps the most noteworthy recent effort by the NACDL and its members is participation in the Clemency Project 2014. This project aims to provide competent legal assistance to prisoners petitioning for clemency through President Obama's clemency initiative. To date, President Obama has granted clemency in 944 cases -- more than the last 11 presidents combined -- and many of the thousands of clemency applications reviewed by the president were provided with the assistance of Clemency Project 2014 volunteers.
The NACDL also publishes a monthly magazine, The Champion, which aims to inform and educate members on issues of concern and relevance in the criminal defense community. Topics range from professional pointers on cross-examination to exposés of the arbitrary nature of the federal sentencing guidelines.
President Obama's clemency initiative and recent bipartisan criminal justice reform legislation exemplify the shifting attitudes of Americans toward how and why we punish law-breakers. The efforts of professional organizations such as the NACDL are crucial in ensuring that fairness and equity remain core aspects of the American criminal justice system. The success of efforts by professional organizations such as the NACDL helps ensure that we do form a more perfect union.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com