At the invitation of the U.S. Department of Justice, Investigative & Security Professionals for Legislative Action board member Nicole Bocra and government affairs director Bruce Hulme participated in the National Symposium on Criminal Defense last week in Washington, D.C. The symposium was organized to correct deficiencies presently existing in the legal representation of the indigent, which has been documented by the American Bar Association and others to be “a system that lacks fundamental fairness and places poor persons at constant risk of wrongful convictions.”
More than 45 years have passed since the Gideon decision of the U.S. Supreme Court and decades since it extended to juveniles the right to counsel. The symposium had some 140 presenters and more than 800 attendees, who took part in five plenary sessions and 37 workshops. The event provided an overview of the advances and setbacks in implementing the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in America over the past decade. An effort was made to find solutions to the current crisis in indigent defense through litigation and legislation. A disparate group of concerned individuals and organizations gathered to present their views–judges, prosecutors, public defenders, defense attorneys, law school academics, forensic organizations, policy and advocacy groups, and ISPLA, representing investigative professionals. Panelists expressed concerns with areas of criminal defense, particularly those affecting the indigent and wrongly accused.
ISPLA members include some of the most experienced defense investigators in the U.S. and have assisted both national and state professional associations on federal regulatory and legislative affairs. ISPLA welcomed the opportunity to provide input on behalf of the profession to many of the participants present, calling attention to the important role played by investigators as an integral part of the criminal justice system.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. was the keynote speaker. Several Assistant Attorneys General and one Associate Attorney General, all heads of important divisions, were also speakers during the symposium. They were:
- Assistant Attorney General Laurie O. Robinson – Office of Justice Programs
- Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez – Civil Rights Division
- Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer – Criminal Division
- Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli – Civil Division’s Federal Programs Branch
Other high ranking Department of Justice speakers or panelists included Duren Banks, Chief of Prosecution and Adjudication Statistics Unit; Kristina Rose, Acting Director of National Institute of Justice (NIJ); Michael G. Sheppo, Director of Investigative and Forensic Services of NIJ; and Edwin Zedlewski, Director of the International Center of NIJ.
Nicole Bocra of ISPLA, an expert in her own right on aspects of investigative technologies, was afforded the opportunity to discuss the latest trends in pretrial and post conviction DNA, impression evidence, and other investigative technologies such as GPS, fingerprints, cell phones and video. Technical presenters in various areas of expertise included attorney Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project; Lisa Kreiger-Norman, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory; Randall Murch, Associate Director, Research Program Development, Virginia Tech Center for Technology, Security, and Policy; Professor Paul C. Gianelli, Case Western Reserve University; Michael Fields, Bureau Chief, Dallas County, Texas District Attorney’s Office of Conviction Integrity; Gary Perkinson, Agent in Charge, Special Investigations Unit, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation; and Miles Brissette, an assistant criminal district attorney, Tarrant County, Texas and former Testing and Certifications Chair for the IACP Digital Video Systems Minimum Performance Specifications for In-Car Video and member of NIJ’s Sensors and Surveillance Technology Technical Working Group and Multimedia Evidence Systems Standards panel.
The interaction between science, technology, law, and criminal justice has produced as many questions as advances in evidence analysis. In reviewing the most cutting-edge investigative technologies, experts demand commensurate standards, admissibility, and other criminal case issues.
The symposium discussed the controversial 2009 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report recommendations to create an independent agency and to separate crime labs from law enforcement. Even before the NAS report, actual innocence cases resulted in more than 240 exonerations through post-conviction DNA analysis by testing evidence either not tested at the time of trial or analyzed using less discriminating technology. Crime scene samples once thought to be unsuitable for testing now yield DNA profiles. Courts may weigh the probative value of DNA evidence in determining whether to grant a motion requesting post-conviction relief.
Bruce Hulme, ISPLA’s director of government affairs, in his conversations with representatives of indigent defense groups, cited his personal experience as court-appointed investigator in federal capital cases and assured them that the resources of ISPLA and the other professional investigative associations working with us can be of invaluable assistance in addressing the issues associated with indigent defense.
He met with leaders of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLDA), National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Constitution Project, National Juvenile Defender Center, National juvenile Defender Center, National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA), The Innocence Project, Brennan Center for Justice, Southern Center for Civil Rights, Juvenile Justice Clinic of Georgetown University Law Center, Children’s Justice Clinic of Rutgers School of Law, American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Ford Foundation, Equal Justice Works and the Campaign for Justice.
ISPLA has been hard at work forging alliances with like-minded stakeholders on specific issues affecting professional investigators and their clients. The National Symposium on Indigent Defense brought together a wide range of organizations to address and seek solutions to an important problem. No one organization can do it alone! The same holds true when responding to ill-conceived federal and state regulations and legislation. This event is but one more example of the areas of interest and work undertaken by ISPLA in the last 12 months. We are proactive in responding to critical issues.
We urge you to take a few moments to visit www.ISPLA.org and join our organization. It may be done on-line if you like. Review the accomplishments listed.
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