NACDL seeks volunteers in historic pro bono effort to secure compassionate release for the most vulnerable federal prisoners.Learn More
NACDL and its members have long pressed to fix the unjustly severe federal sentencing regime, advocating for much more sweeping changes than are included in the First Step Act. Although the law does not go nearly as far as NACDL would like, it will benefit many inmates and has important implications for practitioners.
Resources Related to Provisions of the First Step Act
for Federal Criminal Law Practitioners:
Risk and Needs Assessment System/Earned Time Credits (Title I) Good Time Credit Updates (Title I, Section 102) Sentencing Reform Provisions Under the First Step Act (Title IV) Compassionate Release (Title VI, Section 603)
Continue reading below
In these members-only webinars, leading experts examine the intricacies of the First Step Act from sentencing implications and risk assessments to expanded mechanisms for early release.
Available to the public: Everything You Wanted To Know About Federal Compassionate Release (But Didn’t Know To Ask)
Contact First Step Act Resource Center Counsel & Project Director Beth Blackwood for questions or support.
Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence: A Trial Strategy Guide
NACDL’s Pattern Cross-Examination for DNA and Biological Evidence will assist criminal defense practitioners in scoring points when cross-examining forensic experts in cases involving DNA and biological evidence. This resource contains thousands of questions that will help defense lawyers cross-examine challenging witnesses without reinventing the wheel with each new case. It includes pattern questions that can be used to dominate prosecution DNA experts and level the playing field at trial.
Cross-Examination of the Analyst in Drug Prosecutions (2nd Ed.) By James M. Shellow
Now in its second edition with some new material, James M. Shellow’s book offers what its title promises: ways of thinking about cross-examining the forensic analysts in drug cases. But the book is so much more than that. It offers a look inside the mind of one of the finest cross-examiners and defense lawyers the United States has produced in the last seventy years. This small book can inspire and direct you in making big changes in the way you defend your clients and think about the entire project of trying any case.
Justice For All, Justice Now White T-Shirt (Women’s)
This custom, vintage-faded NACDL t-shirt is 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon weighing 5.2 oz. and is lightwieght, flexible and soft, providing maximum comfort. It features the "Justice For All, Justice Now" slogan and Lady Liberty image on the front, with the NACDL logo on the back. Currently available in both men's and women's sizes in both black and white colors. View the full line-up of colors and sizes on our online store, as well as our other popular and best-selling t-shirt designs at: nacdl.org/store.
Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection - CD-ROM
NACDL’s Drug Cases Resource Materials Collection is the sweeping culmination of every single article of written materials ever published from each installment of NACDL's annual "Defending Modern Drug Cases" seminar. Totaling over 12,000 pages, this vast collection includes 12+ years of motions, briefs, reports, outlines, transcripts, case citations, scholarly articles, powerpoints and other written commentaries. This collection provides trial strategies and tactics you can immediately apply to your current cases.
Mental Illness & the Law: Addressing and Litigating Behavioral Health Disorders in Criminal Cases
Whether it is insanity, impairment, a disorder, or adolescent brain development; mental health and intellectual competence issues affect pretrial supervision, trial and sentencing, and your chances of successfully advocating for your impaired client. This training provides ideas and proven solutions to assist you in advocating for your client during trial, whether it be insanity defenses, jury selection, cross of expert witnesses, persuasion, or mitigation at sentencing.
Advocacy Supporting Implementation of the FIRST Step Act
- Coalition Letter to Senate Judiciary on Failures in Federal Sentencing and First Step Act (May 2021)
- Comments with FAMM and JAN to BOP on Proposed First Step Act Earned Time Credits Rule (January 2021)
- Letter to Senate on Executing Federal Prison Release Programs in COVID-19 Relief Package (July 2020)
Amicus Briefs Filed by NACDL
Birt v. United States
Brief of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner.
Argument: Certiorari is warranted because the Third Circuit’s decision prohibits a whole class of crack-cocaine offenders from being eligible for resentencing under the First Step Act while identically situated defendants in other circuits may be resentenced. The Third Circuit’s rule is inconsistent with Congress’s goal of providing relief to low-level drug offenders because it excludes the lowest-level offenders and those with uncertain drug amounts from resentencing while allowing those who possessed greater amounts of crack cocaine to obtain relief. Defendants convicted for possessing lower-quantities of crack cocaine could receive substantial sentence reductions even though they remain eligible for the same sentence. The Third Circuit’s rule frustrates Congress’s goal of providing relief to the disproportionate number of Black Americans incarcerated for crack-cocaine offenses.
United States v. Raia
Brief of Amici Curiae National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and FAMM in Support of Defendant/Appellee’s Petition for Rehearing and/or Rehearing En Banc.
Argument: Appellee Raia’s Petition for Rehearing addresses the discretion of a district court to excuse the 30-day waiting period for compassionate release under the First Step Act, 18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(1)(A). On April 2, 2020, the Panel declined to remand this case under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 12.1, stating that remand would be “futile.” In so ruling, the Panel necessarily concluded that the 30-day waiting period cannot be excused or waived. That conclusion was inconsistent with both Supreme Court and Circuit precedent. The ruling creates inconsistency in the Circuit’s treatment of all claims-processing rules, and undermines courts’ equitable authority in a wide range of cases. The30-day waiting period is a nonjurisdictional claims-processing rule. Courts may excuse noncompliance with that rule absent an express prohibition on doing so. Remand is therefore not “futile.” The Panel’s sua sponte conclusion to the contrary was error. Rehearing should be granted to correct the Panel’s error and confirm that judges are empowered to address “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances even when they arise exigently. At a minimum, the Panel should grant rehearing and order full briefing on this important issue, which was neither decided below nor fully briefed on appeal.
United States v. Bryant
Brief of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as Amicus Curiae in Support of Appellant Thomas Bryant, Jr., Supporting Reversal.
Argument: Sentencing courts have broad discretion to modify a sentence under Section 3582(c)(1)(A)(i). Sentencing courts have authority to grant motions for compassionate release if the defendant does not meet one of the "extraordinary and compelling reasons" described by the Commission. Vesting sentencing courts with discretion to identify "extraordinary and compelling reasons" is consistent with the judge's role at an initial sentencing and does not open any "floodgates." The District Court's order should be reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.
- Compassionate Release: NACDL and Partners Launch the COVID-19 Compassionate Release Clearinghouse
- From the President: Compassionate Release: The Nuts and Bolts
A Basic Risk Assessment Toolbox: Aiming for Adequate Lawyering During the Spread of Risk Assessments
Risk assessment – the assessment of risk of reoffending or risk of future violent behavior – is a hot topic. However, only rarely do lawyers address the questions raised by criminal justice-related risk assessment. This finding suggests that defense lawyers may not be paying enough attention to the issue. A key issue involves addressing how the risk assessment connects the dots between a specific client’s circumstances and the factors related to reoffending and violence.
News Release ~ 04/06/2020
FAMM, Washington Lawyers’ Committee, NACDL Launch Emergency Compassionate Release Effort-- In a massive pro bono effort, our groups are recruiting, training, and supporting lawyers who agree to represent individuals in federal prisons eligible for compassionate release and those at special risk due to COVID-19.
News Release ~ 12/19/2019
Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar and Charles Koch Foundation Mark the One-Year Anniversary of the First Step Act with the NACDL First Step Act Resource Center -- Washington, DC (Dec. 19, 2019) – Saturday, December 21, marks the one-year anniversary of the signing into law of the First Step Act, a landmark bipartisan criminal justice reform measure. The Act was passed as a first step toward addressing the problems related to overcriminalization and overincarceration in the federal criminal justice system.
News Release ~ 09/11/2019
NACDL Voices Concerns about DOJ’s First Step Act Risk and Needs Assessment System -- Washington, DC (Sept. 11, 2019) – Yesterday, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President Nina J. Ginsberg submitted to U.S. Attorney General William Barr NACDL’s comments on the Department of Justice’s First Step Act Risk and Needs Assessment System – PATTERN – published in July.