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)
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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.
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Modern cases need modern defenses, and modern lawyers can't practice with an outdated playbook.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.
Advocacy Supporting Implementation of the FIRST Step Act
Statement to DOJ on First Step Act Implementation for Stakeholder Listening Session (July 2021)
NACDL Counsel and Director of First Step Act Resource Center Elizabeth A. Blackwood’s written statement to the Department of Justice upon NACDL’s participation in a stakeholder listening session regarding realization of reforms outlined in the FIRST STEP Act (S. 756), signed into law in December 2018 and still in the process of being implemented.
- 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)
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.
- Two Steps Backward, First Step Forward
- Compassionate Release: NACDL and Partners Launch the COVID-19 Compassionate Release Clearinghouse
- From the President: Compassionate Release: The Nuts and Bolts
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.