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    • 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.

    • Brief

    Brown v. Lumpkin

    Brief of Amicus Curiae the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Support of Petitioner’s Objections to Magistrate Judge’s Order.

    Argument: Investigations by telephone, rather than in-person, deprive Brown of effective assistance of counsel. Defense counsel’s ability in a death penalty case to effectively represent the client is derived from “the overarching duty to advocate the defendant’s cause.” This duty is even more critical in capital cases, since “‘the penalty of death is qualitatively different’ from any other sentence.” As such, capital cases require a “greater degree of reliability when the death sentence is imposed.” However, reliability is only attainable when defense counsel is able to adequately investigate and prepare, which is fundamental to attorney competence. Inhibiting defense counsel’s ability to investigate renders counsel ineffective and harms the client. In fact, several courts have found defense counsel constitutionally ineffective for failing to conduct an in-person investigation. The Magistrate’s Order asks counsel to ignore ethical obligations under standards governing capital cases. A mitigation investigation in a capital case must not deviate from the American Bar Association Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Council in Death Penalty Cases and the Supplementary Guidelines for the Mitigation Function of Defense Teams in Death Penalty Cases. Capital life sentence investigations must be conducted according to well-established best practices. The ABA Guidelines, the Supplementary Guidelines, and Texas Guidelines articulate the national and state standards regarding the investigation obligations of defense teams in such cases.