Preventing Future Wacos and Ruby Ridges
Washington, DC (October 24, 1995) -- By virtue of their role in the justice system, the nation's criminal defense lawyers are uniquely positioned to observe how law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies perform their work. Before the headline-grabbing events at Waco and Ruby Ridge, NACDL's members were painfully aware of the increasingly militaristic culture growing throughout law enforcement in the United States.
Thus, we shook our heads in sad understanding when members of a 13-agency joint federal-state task force shot Donald Scott dead in his own living room while executing a bogus search warrant in a dynamic entry raid; we watched wearily as businessman Donald Carlson sought redress from federal law enforcement agencies for repeatedly shooting him when they mistakenly raided his home based on an informant's tip; and we experienced a tragic sense of inevitability when Boston Minister Accelynne Williams died of a heart attack while handcuffed to a radiator in his apartment during an errant raid by police.
Activities uncovered by the Mollen Commission in New York and by the recent prosecution of police officers in Philadelphia, and the racism uncovered in the Los Angeles Police Department show that overreaching, outrageous carelessness -- and callousness -- and outright illegality are certainly not limited to federal law enforcement. But the federal government, whose agents wield so much power over the lives of American citizens, and whose law enforcement policies and practices have long been thought to serve as models for state governments, has a unique and special responsibility to carefully control their actions.
That responsibility is anchored first and foremost in the Constitution of the United States. Ironically, both houses of Congress are considering measures to water down Americans' constitutional protections and confer yet more powers on the very agencies responsible for the debacles at Waco and Ruby Ridge. The House has passed, and the Senate is considering, legislation to curtail the exclusionary rule -- the 80-year-old rule adopted and consistently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court as the only effective means of enforcing the Fourth Amendment's limitations on government actions. The Senate has passed, and the House is considering, so-called "anti-terrorism" legislation that would dramatically expand law enforcement powers, including wiretap authority, greatly multiplying invitations for abuse. And the Senate has before it a proposal to further expand the prerogatives of the Justice Department by exempting federal prosecutors from the ethical rules that govern all lawyers.
Abuse of power by prosecutors may be the most dangerous and least detectable form of government overreaching. As one federal judge observed recently, prosecutors wield enormous power over the lives of citizens, much of it effectively beyond public control. The Supreme Court decades ago proclaimed that the government must disclose to criminal defendants all evidence it has that might indicate a defendant's innocence. Yet -- as information that came to light in the course of the House hearings on Waco revealed -- violations of the rule laid down in Brady v. Maryland remain the most common and insidious form of prosecutorial misconduct. The Justice Department is already too lax and secretive in overseeing and disciplining its army of prosecutors; this is emphatically not the time to loosen further the reins on their conduct.
As we did almost two years ago when we wrote to President Clinton about these issues, NACDL joins with our colleagues in calling on Congress, the President, and the Attorney General to adopt the reforms detailed in today's letter to congressional leaders. We underscore, especially, the urgent need for the following actions:
- establish strict, detailed guidelines and oversight for search warrant applications and search warrants, especially those based on alleged "anonymous informants;"
- establish open discovery of prosecution files in federal criminal proceedings;
- strengthen oversight and discipline of prosecutors;
- establish and enforce strict rules governing the use of "dynamic entry" and deadly force by law enforcement personnel;
- establish a national commission to comprehensively review law enforcement practices and policies.
At the same time, NACDL urges Congress to refrain from wrecklessly loosening the critical constitutional constraints so important to preserving the freedom we enjoy as Americans. To be sure, crime and terrorism warrant profound concern, but let us not hastily throw our constitutional rights at these problems, lest we suddenly find that, step by step, we've surrendered what's precious about our country.
A Defender’s Guide to Federal Evidence: A Trial Practice Handbook for Criminal Defense Attorneys
This Guide to Federal Evidence is the only federal evidence handbook written exclusively for criminal defense lawyers. The Guide analyzes each Federal Rule of Evidence and outlines the main evidentiary issues that confront criminal defense lawyers. It also summarizes countless defense favorable cases and provides tips on how to avoid common evidentiary pitfalls. The Guide contains multiple user-friendly flowcharts aimed at helping the criminal defense lawyer tackle evidence problems. A Defender’s Guide to Federal Evidence is an indispensable tool in preparing a case for trial.
Modern Digital Evidence & Technologies in Criminal Cases
Modern cases need modern defenses, and modern lawyers can't practice with an outdated playbook. This program is a contemporary training that identifies emerging technologies and digital evidence encountered in today's criminal cases and arms you with the tools necessary to combat expert witnesses, prosecutorial overreach, and an uneducated judge and jury. This comprehensive CLE program covers both general aspects of new technologies as well as practical courtroom application and legal challenges to the use of these new technologies.
Top Shelf DUI Defenses: The Law, The Science, The Techniques (2021)
If you are serious about being an effective DUI defense advocate, or if you’re considering adding DUI defenses to your portfolio, you need to know the latest scientific and legal strategies to optimize your success at trial. Learn from the best-of-the-best in the field in this unique CLE Program, updated for 2021.
Defending Modern Drug Cases (2021)
From challenging the arrest and seizure to picking a jury and cross-examining police officers, defense attorneys handling drug cases must be able to construct a defense that will increase the chances of the client getting a positive result for your client.
Effective motion practice, juror selection, and storytelling have never been more important. This seminar will introduce defense counsel to techniques that have been used at recent drug trials to rebut specific claims and overcome the emotion created in today’s criminal legal system.
NACDL Communications Department
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 legal system.