This news release, titled “NACDL Trial Penalty Clemency Project Submits Second Set of Petitions to White House,” reports effectively on work by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to shine light on, and seek needed remedies for, criminal defendants unfairly subject to the “trial penalty.” Here are some details on NACDL’s latest efforts and prior work:
As of this week, NACDL’s Trial Penalty Clemency Project submitted four more federal clemency petitions to the Office of the Pardon Attorney and the White House, adding to the first set of six petitions submitted on October 2, 2020. Of the four petitions, three concern individuals serving life or lengthy sentences for non-violent drug charges, and one concerns an individual serving over 35 years for a non-violent white-collar conviction.
As of late, increased attention to the criminal legal system has led to public outrage and calls to reform myriad facets of the American legal system. The trial penalty, though, which refers to coercive prosecutorial practices that induce accused persons to waive fundamental rights under threat of a vastly increased sentence when fundamental rights are asserted, persists in undermining the American criminal legal system. The most obvious examples of its impact are seen in those who assert their rights and receive a geometrically enhanced sentence. Though reform is badly needed to end the trial penalty, the only immediate remedy for those individuals living this injustice is executive clemency. NACDL’s Trial Penalty Clemency Project aims to assist those individuals by pairing applicants with volunteer attorneys who will assist them in preparing a clemency petition.
“The trial penalty makes a mockery of the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment right to trial and is a large and ever-growing cancer on the American criminal legal system,” said NACDL President Chris Adams. “Every time a defendant opts to hold the government to its burden and go to trial, and receives a substantially more draconian sentence than was previously offered in a plea deal, the American legal system moves further away from justice. NACDL’s Trial Penalty Clemency Project is a vital step in beginning to remedy this great injustice.”
Thus far, through affiliates, members, and the assistance of organizations in this space like the CAN-DO Foundation, the Last Prisoner Project, and Life For Pot, the Project has identified, reviewed, and assigned more than 20 cases with attorneys. The attorneys are crafting petitions or supplements to existing petitions focusing on the impact of the trial penalty. In addition to filing the petitions with the Office of the Pardon Attorney, the Project brought the four cases described below, in addition to six previous cases, to the attention of the White House panel on clemency. NACDL’s Trial Penalty Clemency Project is a component of NACDL’s Return to Freedom Project…
In 2018, NACDL released a groundbreaking report – The Trial Penalty: The Sixth Amendment Right to Trial on the Verge of Extinction and How to Save It. Information and a PDF of NACDL’s 2018 Trial Penalty report, as well as video of the entire 90-minute launch event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and other trial penalty-related videos and materials are available at www.nacdl.org/trialpenaltyreport.
In 2019, The Federal Sentencing Reporter, published by University of California Press, released a double issue covering April and June 2019, edited by NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer and NACDL President-Elect Martín Antonio Sabelli, entitled “The Tyranny of the Trial Penalty: The Consensus that Coercive Plea Practices Must End.”
And in 2020, NACDL and FAMM released a documentary on the trial penalty, The Vanishing Trial. The trailer for that film is available here.