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    • Brief

    Hammoud v. Ma’at

    Brief of Amicus Curiae National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Support of Petitioner-Appellant.


    Argument: NACDL’s amicus brief argues that under the savings clause of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e), a prisoner may seek habeas corpus relief through 28 U.S.C. § 2241 under limited circumstances: when the § 2255 remedy is “inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of [the prisoner’s] detention.”  28 U.S.C. § 2255(e).  For 20 years, the Fifth Circuit has recognized that the § 2255 remedy is “inadequate or ineffective” if a petitioner cannot seek relief despite a retroactively applicable Supreme Court decision establishing that the petitioner may have been convicted of a nonexistent crime.  Although that test leaves the door closed on some actual-innocence claims that should be recognized, it is generally consistent with the savings-clause tests applied in nearly every other federal court of appeals.  Most importantly, that test confirms that the savings clause offers more than a hollow process providing no practical opportunity to end unlawful imprisonment.  The Tenth and Eleventh Circuits, by contrast, have held that the savings clause applies only if the procedure afforded by § 2255 was formally unavailable.  According to those courts, so long as there was some theoretical chance to assert a claim under § 2255—even if the claim was futile or frivolous under existing precedent—the remedy was adequate and effective.  The Fifth Circuit should not modify or overrule its savings-clause jurisprudence to align itself with the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits.  The test applied in those circuits contravenes the text of the savings clause and congressional intent, poses constitutional concerns, and would force petitioners and their counsel to disregard binding precedent, court rules, and ethical obligations that forbid arguments that would be frivolous under settled law.  Moreover, application of the formal-process test would undermine public confidence in the justice system’s treatment of prisoners who contend that retroactive changes in the law mean they are actually innocent.

    • Brief

    South Carolina v. Robinson

    Brief of Amicus Curiae National Association Of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Support of Petitioner.


    Argument: Kenneth Robinson’s case is a quintessential example of why people plead guilty under the threat of a trial tax. Kenneth withstood the immense pressure to plead guilty. A child of only fifteen, charged with murder under the “hand of one, hand of all” doctrine, he exercised his right to a jury trial, foregoing a twenty-three-year offer to plea to manslaughter. He refused to relinquish his right to appeal, foregoing a thirty-year plea offer following guilty verdicts at trial. He paid the price. Most defendants plead guilty to avoid the trial tax; Kenneth went to trial, and the trial tax was levied against him in the form of a fifty-year sentence. By contrast, Kenneth’s co-defendants pleaded guilty and received significantly shorter sentences. NACDL is uniquely positioned to observe the criminal justice system. Over time, based on empirical data and the experiences of its members, NACDL has developed an understanding of the trial tax—the reality that individuals who choose to exercise their Sixth Amendment right to trial face exponentially higher sentences if they invoke the right to trial and lose. It is NACDL’s position that the trial tax is antithetical to the American concept of justice because it diminishes jury trials, undermines the legal system’s goal of truth-seeking, relieves the government of its burden of proof, contributes to wrongful convictions, and disproportionately hurts young people. Kenneth Robinson’s case in particular starkly reveals the dangers to a defendant who chooses to exercise his constitutional right to trial.