By Brenda Jones . . .
RSOL just concluded a successful and exciting three days at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Annual Meeting. There were more than 300 attorneys from all over the country in attendance. RSOL representative Larry Neely attended nearly all the workshops and networked with attorneys from several states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Florida, and Illinois.
Since RSOL is not widely known in the legal community, this networking is extremely valuable if we hope to build future relationship and be considered as both credible and a relevant organization. Every time Larry spoke to one of the attendees about RSOL, they were both surprised and pleased. “I didn’t know you guys were out there!” and “Your advocacy is sorely needed!” were common reactions. Clearly these folks “get” our issue! On display at the conference was NACDL’s latest newsletter, The Champion. Coincidentally, the cover story was “Branded for Life.” This article explained in detail some successful challenges that have been made to overbroad conditions of sex offender supervision and the importance of objecting to those conditions at sentencing.
The workshops were excellent. A dynamic speaker named James Smith presented “Ringing the Pre-Trial Motion Bell.” Mr. Smith told the story of a “Park Ranger” catching two young people engaging in sex. The female was 15 years old and the male was in his early 20s. The young man was charged pursuant to federal law, which provides an “affirmative defense” for mistake of age. The attorney’s investigation revealed that the minor had a Myspace page where she listed her age as 18. In addition, she admitted that she smoked weed and drank. The existence of the Myspace profile proved pivotal in the young man’s defense. He was found not guilty by the jury. Also, Mr. Smith explained how to write short concise motions, which have proven to be more effective with judges.
“Zealous Advocacy and the Limits of Ethical Defense” by Ronald Tyler was very fascinating because Mr. Tyler illustrated the double standards for prosecutors and defense attorneys when both cross the line of ethical behavior. One defense attorney hired an investigator to pose as a researcher to gain access to an accuser’s computer, hoping to prove that the person was also into child porn. The defense attorney’s ploy did succeed in finding child porn. In another example a prosecutor posed as a defense attorney so that a suspect could be interrogated. The accused person confessed to the fake defense attorney. That confession ultimately was suppressed.
In her fantastic workshop, “Learning to Crawl,” Kelli Childress taught the art of connecting with a jury on the very first day. Ms. Childress showed a great video demonstrating how peer pressure can cause juries to conform, and focused on the importance of dealing with uncomfortable issues with prospective jurors such as race. A key fact she shared is that all-white juries are 20 percent more likely to convict a minority defendant in trials where race was not discussed with jurors prior to the trial.
The highlight was the keynote address by Attorney General Eric Holder. Mr. Holder offered kudos to the NACDL for responding to his “clemency challenge” with more than 1000 lawyers volunteering to provide pro bono representation to inmates that have served more time for drug related offenses than required by current sentencing guidelines. Mr. Holder also lamented that the Criminal Justice Act passed back in 1964, yet millions of Americans remain without access to affordable legal services, in particular the detrimental effect those sequestration budget cuts have had on indigent defense. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has requested $24 million in new funding for “indigent defense initiatives.” The administration’s priorities for the remainder of the Obama presidency are:
· Passage of the “Smart on Crime Initiative;”
· Moving away from strict sentencing practices;
· Focus on prison diversion; and
· The Clemency Project of 2014.
Mr. Holder’s remarks were well received by the attendees. In fact, he received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech.
RSOL is grateful for your donations. They transformed our dream of participating in this event and the upcoming National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) “Legislative Summit” into a reality. We intend to return every year. We are also hoping to attend and exhibit at NACDL’s 5th Annual “Defending Sex Crimes Conference.” The cost for exhibitor registration is $1,000, plus travel and lodging for one or two of our representatives. Please consider making a donation to help us fund this extremely important upcoming event.
Again, thank you so very much for getting us to this, and future conferences to educate the wider community about damaging sexual offense laws and the need for reform.