Categorical Legislative Prohibitions on Defenses in Criminal Cases

NACDL has actively opposed legislative efforts in D.C. to categorically prohibit certain defenses in criminal cases.

It is NACDL’s position that categorical legislative prohibitions of defenses in criminal cases chip away at the foundational principles of our criminal justice system and undermine well-established rules of evidence that serve to balance principles of relevance and due process rights of accused persons. Legislation that focuses on limiting certain defenses and the consequential media attention that follows encourages the public to believe that trials are conducted by judges mechanically applying the law instead of through an adversarial process culminating in a fair jury verdict that is based on a thorough and searching consideration of all of the relevant evidence at trial.  

On February 16, 2019, after significant study by NACDL's Task Force on Defenses, NACDL's Board of Directors adopted a resolution "Concerning Categorical Legislative Prohibitions of Defenses in Criminal Cases."

On October 23, 2019, NACDL Past President Nina J. Ginsberg testified before the Washington, D.C. City Council Judiciary and Public Safety Committee regarding B23-409 and B23-435. The legislation "limits the scope of the defenses of heat of passion caused by adequate provocation, insanity, self-defense, defense of others, and defense of property if certain elements of the defense are based on the victim's actual or percieved gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation."

B23-0409 was signed into law by Mayor Muriel Bowser on January 15, 2021.

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