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Modern cases need modern defenses, and modern lawyers can't practice with an outdated playbook.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
- Comments to BOP on Applying First Step Act Good Time Credit to D.C. Code Offenders (November 2021)
Letter to Senate Leadership on Sentencing Reform Proposals (September 2021)
Letter to Senate leadership regarding federal sentencing reform proposals that begin to address shortcomings and disparities. See the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act of 2021 (S. 312), the First Step Implementation Act of 2021 (S. 1014), the Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act of 2021 (S. 601), the EQUAL Act (S. 79), the Kenneth P. Thompson Begin Again Act (S. 2502), and the Driving for Opportunity Act (S. 998).
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.
Amicus Briefs Filed by NACDL
Houston v. United States
Brief Amicus Curiae of National Association Of Criminal Defense Lawyers In Support Of Petitioner (on petitioner for a writ of certiorari).
Argument: Timely resolution of the question presented is of great practical importance to First Step Act movants. Appellate-court decisions remanding for considers of the § 3553(a) factors have resulted in significantly reduced sentences. The temporal gap between the original sentencing and First Step Act proceeedings underscores the importance of an update § 3553(a) analysis. In light of the very real possibility that renewed § 3553(a) consideration results in lower sentences, the Court must intervene now.
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. Maxwell
Brief of the Federal Public and Community Defenders for the Judicial Districts of the Sixth Circuit and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as Amici Curiae in Support of Reversal.
Argument: The career offender guideline is problematic. The impact of the career offender guidelines was even more severe before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The severity of the career offender guideline does not advance the purposes of sentencing. The career offender guideline has an unwarranted adverse impact on Black defendants. A career offender sentence creates rather than avoids unwarranted disparity in the ordinary case. Courts must take special care when considering the need to avoid unwarranted disparity for those deemed career offenders and eligible for First Step Act relief.
- 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 ~ 01/13/2022
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Welcomes BOP Rule Allowing for the Release of Thousands Under the First Step Act – Washington, DC (Jan. 13, 2022) – Thousands will be released from federal prisons over the next weeks thanks to implementation of a rule created by the 2018 First Step Act. The rule, implemented today by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), allows incarcerated individuals to work toward home confinement or supervised release by completing approved Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction (EBRR) Programs and Productive Activities (PAs).
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 of Interest
- "The First Step Act released them from prison. Then the government tried to lock them back up.,"
- "Compassionate Release and the Pandemic: A Policy Failure?,"
- "Congress must act to correct flaws in the First Step Act,"