April 20, 2020 From the Chair

Perfecting Our Vision

Kim T. Parker

Greetings Colleagues,

The centennial mark for the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association is here: 100 years of perseverance toward the achievement of justice! Our Section, one of the oldest in the ABA, originated in 1920 along the banks of the Mississippi River, in St. Louis, Missouri. The mission was to strengthen criminal law and its administration. So how are we doing?

Let’s review.

In the thirties, Justin Miller, an early chair of the Criminal Justice Section (1925–1936) and later Associate Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (1937–1945) penned an article for the ABA Journal, writing, “Most Lawyers Have Little or No Appreciation of the Fact that Responsibility for Inadequate Administration of Criminal Law Is Directly Chargeable to Members of the Profession.” Miller’s article pointed to problems with the administration of criminal law that remain pertinent in 2020. He wrote of concerns with overcriminalization, sentencing, mental defenses, forensic science, early representation by counsel, prison overcrowding, the expanded use of guilty pleas, and lack of proper training for police, lawyers, and judges.

Fast forward 40 years to 1972, when US Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark wrote about the 1964 implementation of the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice. Clark noted the serious ailments of the criminal justice system and commended our Section for the massive undertaking to improve and modernize the criminal justice system. Clark wrote, “The Standards were born in a climate of deep concern over the burgeoning problems of crime and the correlative crisis in our courts occasioned by overwhelming case loads, recidivism, and a seeming incapacity of the system to respond to the challenges of the Sixties.” Clark’s following description of the climate and the need for standards is also still germane today:

In addition to technical and professional questions, some of the standards for criminal justice involve grave problems of public policy which tend to generate heated controversy, sharp divisions in popular opinion, and an insistent demand for their solution. The development and acceptance of standards, therefore, require considerable skill and serious consideration of representative viewpoints.

In 2020, the same criminal justice problems plague us. Heated controversy and sharp division still swirl around the lack of solutions for these persistent issues. One would think after 100 years and lawyers working to achieve justice in criminal law, we would be perfect by now. Yet a lot has happened in our nation and in the world during these 100 years that have impacted criminal justice. The challenges are real, and we will always suffer the inhumanities humans perpetrate on one another. In this hindsight year, we have the responsibility to reflect upon our successes, our failures, and the work left undone. This reflection will serve us as we perfect our vision and plan the future. We can be proud of what has been accomplished during the last century, recognizing the administration of criminal law has seen improvement and has been strengthened significantly due to the notable work of our Section both past and present. Our members are always working to develop policy and projects that speak to a broad range of topics in criminal justice. We strive to achieve justice in our communities, our states, and our nation, and throughout the globe. Most recently, three of our members represented the ABA CJS at the National Bar Association Judicial Council conference in South Africa. Judge Bernice Donald organized the entire CLE program. Judge Langford-Morris and April Frazier Camara presented during the opening session.

Throughout the year, we lead the way by listening to opposing viewpoints and setting examples. Reflecting on our failures and success will serve to spark and inspire us as we persevere and stay the course. In the first six months of my term as chair, I have personally been invigorated by the dedication and commitment of lawyers who appreciate their responsibility to the fair, just, and equitable administration of criminal justice. Prosecutors, defenders, judges, academics, and others who devote their time and energy to the development of ABA CJS Standards, resolutions, and policy help create a better future for all of us. I hope this column inspires those who are members to stay fresh and to spread their thoughts, and ideas. I also hope this column brings more individuals to our long table to share their diverse viewpoints. It is sad and embarrassing that it has taken so many years and so many missteps to more fully appreciate and understand the necessity of diversity and inclusion in our march toward fairness and justice. We must strongly insist that the work of our Section reflect the diversity of our world. Only then can we be relevant and successful in the “achievement of justice” in the next century. So, what’s ahead for the next six months?

  • April 23–24, Kansas City: We hold our annual CJS Spring Meeting. The exceptional and free CLE programming opens with the Women and Allies in Criminal Justice Symposium and continues the following day discussing material criminal justice solutions.
  • May 7–8 and 11–13, Las Vegas: Join us for the Gaming Law Minefield Conference and the 30th National Institute on Health Care Fraud.
  • June 4–5, New York: We present the 11th Prescription for Criminal Justice and Forensic Science at Fordham University School of Law.
  • July 29–August 4, Chicago: We continue our centennial celebration during the ABA Annual meeting.

I invite you to take advantage of our informative and educational publications, webinars, and podcasts that can be easily located on our web page at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/criminal_justice.

Please join us as we wrangle with criminal law issues of our time. Our strength comes from the inclusion and engagement of individuals who bring diverse realities, experiences, perspectives, ideas, and dreams to the work of the Section.

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Kim T. Parker

Kim T. Parker is chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section and prosecutor coordinator for Kansas County and District Attorneys.