Amicus Briefs Filed in 2021

The Amicus Curiae Committee’s mission is to provide amicus assistance on the federal and state level in those cases that present issues of importance to criminal defendants, criminal defense lawyers, and/or the criminal justice system as a whole. Membership in NACDL is not a prerequisite either for amicus assistance from the Committee, or for authorship of an NACDL amicus brief.

Al-Hela v. Biden

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


Argument: NACDL’s amicus brief argues that consistent with Boumediene v. Bush, 553 U.S. 723 (2008), the D.C. Circuit has repeatedly recognized the possibility that the Due Process Clause applies, at least in some respects, to Guantanamo detainees.  To the extent the en banc court concludes that the Suspension Clause does not bar the use of ex parte evidence in habeas proceedings, it should hold that the Due Process Clause does bar such evidence.  Ex parte evidence is one of the core evils against which the Due Process Clause guards.  Since before the Founding, it has been recognized that fundamental fairness requires allowing a litigant to see, and rebut, the evidence the government is relying upon to justify the exercise of its coercive powers.  The D.C. Circuit has long recognized and enforced the firmly held rule that courts may not decide the merits of a case—particularly one where individual liberty interests are at stake—on the basis of ex parte, in camera submissions.  If the information required to hold a detainee is classified:  “The government must choose; either leave the transactions in the obscurity from which a trial will draw them, or it must expose them fully.”  Jencks v. United States, 353 U.S. 657, 671 (1957).  Two key due process considerations strongly favor barring ex parte evidence here: the risk of erroneous deprivation and the strength of the government’s asserted interest.  Al-Hela has been in detention for nearly 20 years without ever being charged with a crime.  The information at issue is aged and the government’s interest in maintaining secrecy of such dated information has diminished with the passage of time.  At the same time, the risk of a prolonged detention based on erroneous information increases with each passing day.  As a result, the degree of scrutiny of the evidence used to justify detention must increase as well, requiring, at a minimum, that Al-Hela’s security-cleared counsel be given an opportunity to review all of the evidence used to justify Al-Hela’s continued detention.  There is good reason to be wary of the ex parte use of information in this context, given that prior ex partesubmissions have proven unreliable when subsequently exposed to daylight.

Caniglia v. Strom

Brief Amicus Curiae of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Criminal Procedure Professors in Support of Petitioner.


Argument: In Sutterfield v. City of Milwaukee, 751 F.3d 542, 553 (7th Cir. 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit observed that the distinctions among the exigent circumstances doctrine, the emergency aid doctrine, and the community caretaking doctrine “are not always clear.” In turn, these fuzzy distinctions have led to a “lack of clarity in judicial articulation and application of the three doctrines.” This lack of clarity means that courts deciding whether the community caretaking doctrine should apply to warrantless home entries often think that doctrine is needed to justify entries that are already covered by the exigent circumstances doctrine and/or the emergency aid doctrine. As set forth in this amici brief, this Court’s opinions defining and applying the exigent circumstances and emergency aid doctrines establish that police officers would need to rely on the community caretaking doctrine as an independent justification for warrantless home entries in only two potential situations: to address (1) non-bodily harms such as nuisances; and (2) non-imminent threats of bodily harm. Framed in that fashion, it is clear that a separate and independent rationale such as “community caretaking” – which was generated by the special circumstances attendant to automobile searches – does not justify invasion of the sanctity of the home. Indeed, the way that this Court distinguished its opinion in Coolidge in creating the community caretaking doctrine makes clear that the doctrine does not and should not apply to warrantless home entries. In addition, the capacity for a “community caretaking” exception that permits warrantless searches of the home would invite its use as an end run around the protections of the warrant requirement.

Cody v. United States

Brief of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Due Process Institute as Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioner (On Petition for a Writ of Certiorari). 


Argument: Without addressing the relevant text or history, the Eleventh Circuit held that, for purposes of the COA statute, a “proceeding under section 2255” extends beyond identifying a defect in custody—habeas’s historic outer limit—to also include the process of choosing an appropriate remedy. The court of appeals erred by reading the jurisdictional limits in the Antiterror-ism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) in isolation from—rather than in pari materia with—the jurisdictional grants that they were enacted to restrain. Read together, sections 2255 and 2253 communicate Congress’s unambiguous intent that a “proceeding under section 2255” has the same scope as a traditional proceeding for habeas corpus. This Court’s habeas precedents, in turn, make clear that the scope of that proceeding does not include selecting a remedy. review is warranted because requiring a Certificate of Appealability prior to appellate review of a choice of remedy under § 2255(b) would be the functional equivalent of abolishing review altogether. COAs are available only for constitutional claims, but the choice of post-conviction remedy is an almost purely statutory procedure, and, as a practical matter, no COA could ever issue to a defendant in petitioner’s position. This Court’s review is needed to resolve that split and correct the Eleventh Circuit’s misinterpretation of the statutes governing federal post-conviction review.

Gurrola v. Duncan

Brief Of Amici Curiae The Dkt Liberty Project, The Cato Institute, Collateral Consequences Resource Center, Clause 40 Foundation, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, The Macarthur Justice Center, The R Street Institute, The Sentencing Project, And The National Association Of Criminal Defense Lawyers In Support Of Plaintiffs-Appellants.


Argument: State licensing schemes that categorically bar individuals with prior criminal convictions from holding various professions are irrational. Across the country, these licensing schemes cover almost every profession imaginable. However, these regulations frequently do nothing other than bar those with criminal records from entering a profession. These regulations prevent those with felony convictions from, among other things, operating a taxicab, performing marriages, and working as a tag officer at a state department of motor vehicles. This is true regardless of whether the individual has been convicted of a major fraud, a violent crime, or something as minor as felony littering. States regularly impose criminal-history restrictions on occupational licenses that are entirely unrelated to the applicant’s fitness to be a contributing member to the profession. And these restrictions—which bar individuals with prior convictions from finding gainful employment—contribute to recidivism, further underscoring their irrationality. Although courts have held that these licensing schemes are subject to only rational basis review, rational basis is not a toothless standard; it requires that a court find some logical relationship between the restriction—here, two felony convictions—and the occupation being regulated—here, emergency medical technicians (“EMTs”). Courts historically have been critical of, and have struck down under this test, broad regulatory schemes that bar membership of an applicant who has any felony conviction. Because California’s regulatory scheme bars individuals convicted of any two felonies without regard for whether the crimes at issue implicate the applicant’s fitness to become an EMT, including to fight fires, this scheme likewise fails rational basis review. As a result, this Court should vacate the district court’s order granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss and remand this case for further proceedings.

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.

McCallum v. Italy

Amicus Curiae to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.


Argument: Article 3 of the ECHR absolutely prohibits the infliction of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In a series of major decisions since 2013, the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR has spelt out the criteria according to which sentences of life imprisonment must be implemented to ensure that Article 3 is not infringed. If life sentences meet these criteria, they can be imposed and implemented consistently with Article 3. Article 3 also governs extradition from member states. When a member state receives an extradition request, it has a duty to assess prospectively whether allowing extradition may result in a life sentence in the requesting state that would infringe Article 3, as interpreted by the ECtHR. This does not impose a burden on a non-member state seeking extradition, but on the member state from which extradition is sought. Such member state must ensure that its actions in allowing extradition do not foreseeably result in the Article 3 rights of a person in its jurisdiction later being infringed by a non-member state. The amici curiae submit in this intervention that the criteria developed by the ECtHR in respect of life imprisonment should be applied when deciding whether Italy is justified in extraditing McCallum to stand trial in Michigan, where she will be sentenced mandatorily to Life Without Parole (LWOP) if she is convicted of first-degree murder.

Smith v. Maryland

Brief in Support of Appellant of Amici Curiae National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, and the Innocence Network.


Argument: NACDL’s amicus brief argues that the State’s misconduct in this case was truly startling; indeed, it is among the most serious examples of prosecutorial misconduct in amici’s collective experience.  The record shows that the prosecution: (1) suppressed “a fountain of favorable evidence from the defense”; (2) “[s]ponsored dubious claims from a credibility-ravaged witness who tainted every other prosecution witness”; (3) “made serial false representations to the defense, to jurors, and to the trial court about critical exculpatory evidence”; and (4) testified falsely under oath to hide its misconduct.  This misconduct was an attempt to shore up a weak case in which there was no physical evidence to link Mr. Smith or his co-defendants to the crime, and there was physical evidence that pointed away from them.  Authority from jurisdictions throughout the country supports the dismissal of the indictment under these circumstances.  Prosecutorial conduct that is “so grossly shocking and outrageous as to violate the universal sense of justice” requires dismissal of a resulting prosecution on due process grounds.  A case also can be dismissed under a court’s supervisory powers even if “the conduct does not rise to the level of a due process violation.”  The egregious misconduct found by the court of appeals satisfies either standard.  Retrial would not adequately address the egregious misconduct that occurred in this case because (1) the extensive misconduct here was unusually extreme and shocks the conscience, and it created pervasive prejudice that would prevent Mr. Smith from receiving a fair retrial, and (2) any remedy short of dismissal would be inadequate to deter the type of intentional, willful, and reckless misconduct that the court of appeals recognized and the State now admits.  While dismissal is an extreme remedy, courts have invoked it regularly in cases with extreme facts of the type found here. 

Sumpter v. Kansas

Brief for Amicus Curiae National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Support of Petitioner-Appellee/Cross-Appellant and Urging Reversal. 


Argument: Mr. Sumpter was convicted of several sexual misconduct offenses and one count of aggravated kidnapping. The kidnapping conviction added 186 months to his sentence. Mr. Sumpter’s convictions were affirmed on direct appeal and his state post-conviction motion was unsuccessful. Kansas has appealed to the 10th Circuit. The aggravated kidnapping conviction and sentence were vacated by the United States District Court in Kansas when the court partially granted the 2254 petition and concluded Mr. Sumpter had been denied effective assistance of counsel as to the kidnapping conviction. Mr. Sumpter was convicted of forcefully confining the accuser, yet trial counsel failed to assert the defense, long established in Kansas case law, that the alleged forced confinement was not independent of the offense of attempted rape. The defendant followed the accuser to her car and attempted to sexually assault her in the car before the victim was able to force him out of the car. Defense counsel thus should have argued that there was no forced confinement independent of the alleged attempted sexual assault. The amicus brief argues that the failure of counsel to present this long-recognized defense to the kidnapping charge resulted in an unconstitutional application of the Kansas kidnapping statute. Mr. Sumpter was convicted of kidnapping without any determination that the alleged forceful confinement was independent of the attempted sexual assault. Therefore, the district court order vacating the kidnapping conviction should be affirmed.

Sumpter v. Kansas

Amicus Brief in support of Petitioner-Appellee and Cross-Appellant by National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.


Argument: Mr. Sumpter was convicted of several sexual misconduct offenses and one count of aggravated kidnapping. The kidnapping conviction added 186 months to his sentence. Mr. Sumpter’s convictions were affirmed on direct appeal and his state post-conviction motion was unsuccessful. Kansas has appealed to the 10th Circuit. The aggravated kidnapping conviction and sentence were vacated by the United States District Court in Kansas when the court partially granted the 2254 petition and concluded Mr. Sumpter had been denied effective assistance of counsel as to the kidnapping conviction. Mr. Sumpter was convicted of forcefully confining the accuser, yet trial counsel failed to assert the defense, long established in Kansas case law, that the alleged forced confinement was not independent of the offense of attempted rape. The defendant followed the accuser to her car and attempted to sexually assault her in the car before the victim was able to force him out of the car. Defense counsel thus should have argued that there was no forced confinement independent of the alleged attempted sexual assault. The amicus brief argues that the failure of counsel to present this long-recognized defense to the kidnapping charge resulted in an unconstitutional application of the Kansas kidnapping statute.  Mr. Sumpter was convicted of kidnapping without any determination that the alleged forceful confinement was independent of the attempted sexual assault. Therefore, the district court order vacating the kidnapping conviction should be affirmed.

Terry v. United States

Brief of Retired Federal Judges, Former Federal Prosecutors, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as Amici Curiae in Support of Petitioner. 


Argument: Defendants sentenced for crack cocaine offenses under the pre-2010 version of § 841(b)(1)(C) are eligible for resentencing under the First Step Act of 2018.  The First Step Act’s resentencing provisions apply to offenses whose penalties were “modified” by the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010.  Although defendants sentenced under the pre-2010 version of § 841(b)(1)(C) remain eligible for their original sentences after the statute was recently amended, the sentences they would have received under the post-2010 version of the statute almost certainly would have been lower—likely significantly lower.  That is because the Fair Sentencing Act dramatically expanded the drug quantities to which § 841(b)(1)(C) applies.  All else equal, a sentencing judge generally aims to align the various drug-quantity ranges in § 841(b) with the corresponding sentence ranges—assigning lower sentences for lower quantities and higher sentences for higher quantities.  In other words, the drug-quantity benchmarks in § 841(b) exert a powerful anchoring influence over a judge’s sentencing decisions.  And Congress changed the relevant anchor points 2010.  Thus, it “modified” the statutory penalties in § 841(b)(1)(C), and defendants sentenced under that provision are entitled to resentencing.

United States v. Perez-Perez

Amicus Brief in support of Defendant-Appellant’s petition for rehearing en banc by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies.


Argument: In a split decision, the Tenth Circuit (per Ebel, J.) affirmed on plain error review a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5) (illegal or unlawful alien in possession of a firearm) notwithstanding the fact that during the plea colloquy the judge failed to inform the defendant of two essential elements of the crime:  (1) he had to know his status as a prohibited person; and (2) he was illegally or unlawfully in the United States. There’s a spirited dissent by Judge Bacharach. Although the panel concluded Mr. Perez’s constitutional rights were violated due to these failings when he accepted the plea agreement, the majority nevertheless decided Mr. Perez had not established plain error. The amicus brief argues that the majority erred in not finding plain error pointing out that the evidence of Mr. Perez’s knowledge of his prohibited status was weak and that there was ample record support for this potential defense. The majority instead engaged in speculation about why Mr. Perez accepted the plea agreement (to avoid mandatory minimum charges) when the meagre factual record suggested instead that Mr. Perez did not accept the plea agreement to avoid these charges. Rather, the record is clear that Mr. Perez sought to avoid the trial penalty and to transfer out of the onerous conditions of pretrial detention, which he had suffered for more than 18 months. As a result of the plain error in this case, Mr. Perez is entitled to have his conviction vacated. 

United States v. Tsarnaev

Brief of American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Inc., National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Rutherford Institute as Amici Curiae in Support of Respondent.


Argument: NACDL’s amicus brief argues that in the sentencing phase of his capital trial, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sought to introduce evidence in mitigation that his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev had previously enlisted an accomplice to commit a brutal triple murder and robbery on the ten-year anniversary of September 11, 2001. Tamerlan bound, beat, and slit the throats of three men (one a childhood friend) in the name of jihad.  This evidence supported Dzhokhar’s core mitigation theory that his older brother was a violent jihadist who influenced him to participate in the Boston Marathon bombings and was more culpable for those crimes. But the district court excluded it. Tamerlan’s previous jihadist murders and recruitment of an accomplice are powerful pieces of mitigation evidence, and 18 U.S.C. § 3593(c) provides no basis to exclude them. “Waste of time” is not a basis for exclusion under Section 3593(c). The proposed mitigation evidence created no danger of “confusing the issues.” Section 3595(a)’s harmless error standard is demanding, and the Government fails to meet it here. The Government fails to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury was just as likely to disbelieve Dzhokar’s core mitigation theory if it had seen the Waltham evidence.  The Government also fails to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury would have sentenced Dzhokhar to death even if it believed Dzhokhar acted under Tamerlan’s influence.

 

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