Cannabis Justice Initative
Pursuing multiple avenues of relief for those directly impacted by a cannabis conviction and its consequences through clemency, compassionate release, expungement, and reform, NACDL has partnered with the Last Prisoner Project to launch the Cannabis Justice Initiative. The project will place these cases for pro bono assistance with private counsel and will provide training and support to the lawyers who are taking cases.
Excessive Sentence Project
The Excessive Sentence Project recruits and trains pro bono attorneys to file compassionate release motions on behalf of individuals in federal prison whose sentences are too long, either because they would receive a much lower sentences today due to intervening changes in the law or because their original sentence was simply unjust.
Jim Crow Juries: Unanimous Jury Project
The purpose of this project is to match currently incarcerated individuals convicted by non-unanimous juries with pro bono lawyers to co-counsel with Promise of Justice Initiative and assist clients in completing post-conviction relief applications associated writ applications. Having counsel to support these filings greatly increases the chances of success, and this project will help to ensure that those convicted by 10-2 or 11-1 ‘split juries’ who are without resources to afford legal representation have access to potential relief.
For more than 138 years, Louisiana courts convicted people for felony crimes even when not all jurors believed that the prosecution had proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, the State of Louisiana has sent thousands of men and women to prison for tens of thousands of years with inexcusably short deliberation times. Only Oregon and Louisiana convicted people of felony crimes with non-unanimous juries, and only in Louisiana could a judge sentence someone to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) when a jury did not reach a unanimous verdict.
Through this project, we will research individuals convicted by a non-unanimous jury who are interested in receiving assistance and are not represented by a lawyer. We will match those individuals with pro bono attorneys to assist them in completing their appeals. And throughout the process, PJI we will provide resources and support to the pro bono attorneys and teams. We will also track the outcomes of post-conviction relief applications submitted through this project.
Jim Crow Juries: Unanimous Jury Project is a project of the Promise of Justice Initiative, undertaken in collaboration with individual attorneys and firms offering pro bono representation.
Trial Penalty Clemency Project
As set forth in the 2018 report authored by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in conjunction with the Foundation for Criminal Justice, entitled “The Trial Penalty: The Sixth Amendment Right to Trial on the Verge of Extinction and How to Save It,” trial by jury has declined to the point that less than 3% of state and federal criminal cases are tried to a jury. And, as set forth in the Report, many of those individuals who exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to a jury trial are being penalized for doing so.
While society is awakening to the number of wrongs embodied in the trial penalty, there are a number of individuals living the trial penalty as they serve excessively long prison sentences as a result of electing to go to trial and holding the government to its burden. The only remedy for these individuals is executive clemency. The Trial Penalty Clemency Project aims to assist those individuals by pairing Applicants with Volunteer Attorneys who will assist them in preparing a clemency petition.
Reform is needed to end the trial penalty. In the interim, this Project provides an opportunity for a second chance to those individuals who are living it.
Virginia Redemption Project
The purpose of this project is to match currently incarcerated individuals with pro bono lawyers to assist them in completing their clemency petitions. Having counsel through the clemency process greatly increases the chances of success, and this project will help to ensure that those who are most at risk of illness from COVID-19 and who cannot afford a lawyer have access to meaningful review. This project is open to anyone who is currently serving a Virginia state sentence for non-capital offenses, whose case has concluded (all appeals have been exhausted).
While Virginia recognizes three types of pardons, this project will initially focus only on conditional pardons, which are only available to people who are currently incarcerated. A conditional pardon is an act by the Governor to modify or end a sentence imposed by the court. The Governor only grants a conditional pardon when there is substantial evidence of extraordinary circumstances to warrant it. As a result of the settlement agreement in Whorley, et al. v. Northam, et al., the Governor and Secretary of the Commonwealth agree to prioritize conditional pardons and to actively identify and expedite consideration of petitions that reference medical concerns in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through this project, we will screen individuals who are interested in receiving assistance with a conditional pardon based on identified criteria. We will match those individuals with pro bono attorneys to assist them in completing their petition. And throughout the process, we will provide counsel and support to the pro bono attorney. We will also track the outcomes of conditional pardon petitions submitted through this project.
This project is being launched through a joint commitment and shared resources from the NACDL, ACLU of Virginia, FAMM, Justice Forward, Legal Aid Justice Center, and the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Criminalization of the Ballot Box
The right to vote is essential to democracy. In recent years overly zealous prosecutors have used arcane provisions of voting law to intimidate voters and prospective voters. These practices have been especially prevalent in several states. It is essential that prosecutions designed to criminalize the ballot box are met with vigorous defense advocacy to challenge the application of these statutes on constitutional, statutory, and factual grounds. This program seeks to elevate defense advocacy in this area by providing training on general principles applicable to alleged voter fraud prosecutions and state-specific guidance that will focus on North Carolina, Texas, and Florida.
NACDL thanks and salutes its partners in this endeavor: ACLU of Florida, ACLU of Texas, Black Voters Matter Fund, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Legal Aid and Defenders Association, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and Texas Civil Rights Project. Additionally, for bringing these groups together and supporting this project, NACDL and the NACDL Foundation for Criminal Justice express appreciation to the Ford Foundation.