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UN General Assembly Adopts Principles and Guidelines on Indigent Defense
February 12th, 2013 Posted by

On January 7, 2013, the Access to Justice Initiative brought together about twenty indigent defense experts to brief them on the newly adopted United Nations Principles & Guidelines on Access to Legal Aid in Criminal Justice Systems, and to seek their practical input as the UN and its member states begin to use the Principles & Guidelines to guide real-world reforms.

The UN General Assembly formally adopted the Principles & Guidelines in December 2012, making it the first international legal document on indigent defense.  The Principles & Guidelines emerged through the efforts of non-governmental organizations and member states over several years, and the Department of Justice actively supported the Principles & Guidelines throughout its adoption process.  The Access to Justice Initiative helped to formulate the U.S. position on the document, which reflects many of the same values as the American Bar Association’s Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System (PDF), which were adopted in 2002 for use by communities across the country in establishing and reforming defender systems.  Attorney General Holder and Acting Associate Attorney General West spoke in support of the Principles & Guidelines in their remarks at events around the opening of the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly. 

As Acting Associate Attorney General West stated:

 “…Establishing standards can be instrumental in raising the level of representation for defenders across the country…These comprehensive guidelines and principles can be effective tools in strengthening and expanding existing criminal legal aid systems throughout the world.”

As a secondary source of law, much like a U.S. Restatement of the Law, the Principles and Guidelines express a developing international consensus on the importance of effective legal aid systems in indigent defense:

  • First, the Principles & Guidelines provide a model for countries still at the beginning stages of developing public defense systems.  The document confirms that public defense providers must have the resources and independence to provide effective legal aid to all persons accused of crimes, regardless of economic or social status.  The Principles & Guidelines also acknowledge the need for flexibility – legal aid systems will develop in different countries in different ways. 
  • Second, the Principles & Guidelines demonstrate an international consensus to challenge all countries to achieve high standards in criminal defense.  As we in the United States continue to work to meet our own constitutional obligations to provide effective representation to criminal defendants, the values expressed in the Principles & Guidelines can inform and guide the efforts of U.S. advocates and policymakers. 

At the January 7 meeting, the Access to Justice Initiative convened a diverse group of U.S. indigent defense experts to discuss the Principles and Guidelines.  To begin a conversation on how U.S. criminal defense practitioners may use the Principles & Guidelines as a source of persuasive authority, the Director of the Local Human Rights Lawyering Project at American University’s Washington College of Law described their efforts to make the use of international human rights law in U.S. courts more common and accepted. 

In addition, the meeting was an opportunity for this community to contribute to the implementation of the Principles & Guidelines at the international level.  The Executive Director of the International Legal Foundation, which is contributing to a UN manual on early access to counsel, sought practical input from the experts in the room.  The participants provided insights from their own experiences on the meaning and implications of “early access” to counsel, suggested models for providing early access, and discussed obstacles that countries will face as they translate the Principles & Guidelines into practical reforms of their criminal defense systems. 

Participants agreed that the US experience in providing effective criminal defense – both successes and failures – offers valuable lessons to other countries at the early stages of developing their criminal defense systems.


POSTED IN: Access to Justice  |  PERMALINK
Working to Counter Online Radicalization to Violence in the United States
February 5th, 2013 Posted by

Earlier today, the White House released a policy statement to counter violent extremist use of the Internet to recruit and radicalize to violence in the United States.  The statement from Quintan Wiktorowicz, the White House Senior Director for Community Partnerships, on the National Security Staff originally appeared on the White House Blog and is reposted in full below.

The American public increasingly relies on the Internet for socializing, business transactions, gathering information, entertainment, and creating and sharing content. The rapid growth of the Internet has brought opportunities but also risks, and the Federal Government is committed to empowering members of the public to protect themselves against the full range of online threats, including online radicalization to violence.

Violent extremist groups ─ like al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents, violent supremacist groups, and violent “sovereign citizens” ─ are leveraging online tools and resources to propagate messages of violence and division. These groups use the Internet to disseminate propaganda, identify and groom potential recruits, and supplement their real-world recruitment efforts.  Some members and supporters of these groups visit mainstream fora to see whether individuals might be recruited or encouraged to commit acts of violence, look for opportunities to draw targets into private exchanges, and exploit popular media like music videos and online video games.  Although the Internet offers countless opportunities for Americans to connect, it has also provided violent extremists with access to new audiences and instruments for radicalization.

As a starting point to prevent online radicalization to violence in the homeland, the Federal Government initially will focus on raising awareness about the threat and providing communities with practical information and tools for staying safe online. In this process, we will work closely with the technology industry to consider policies, technologies, and tools that can help counter violent extremism online. Companies already have developed voluntary measures to promote Internet safety ─ such as fraud warnings, identity protection, and Internet safety tips ─ and we will collaborate with industry to explore how we might counter online violent extremism without interfering with lawful Internet use or the privacy and civil liberties of individual users.

This approach is consistent with Internet safety principles that have helped keep communities safe from a range of online threats, such as cyber bullies, scammers, gangs, and sexual predators. While each of these threats is unique, experience has shown that a well-informed public, armed with tools and resources to stay safe online, is critical to protecting communities. Pursuing such an approach is also consistent with the community-based framework we outlined in Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States (PDF) and the Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States (PDF).

A New Interagency Working Group

To more effectively organize our efforts, the Administration is establishing a new Interagency Working Group to Counter Online Radicalization to Violence, chaired by the National Security Staff at the White House and involving specialists in countering violent extremism, Internet safety experts, and civil liberties and privacy practitioners from across the United States Government. This Working Group will be responsible for developing plans to implement an Internet safety approach to address online violent extremism, coordinating the Federal Government’s activities and assessing our progress against these plans, and identifying additional activities to pursue for countering online radicalization to violence.

Raising Awareness through Existing Initiatives

In the coming months, the Working Group will coordinate with Federal departments and agencies to raise awareness and disseminate tools for staying safe from online violent extremism primarily through three means.

First, information about online violent extremism will be incorporated into existing Federal Government Internet safety initiatives.  Internet safety initiatives at the Department of Education, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies provide platforms that already reach millions of Americans, and relevant departments and agencies will work to add materials related to online radicalization.

The primary government platform for raising awareness about Internet safety is OnGuard Online, managed by the Federal Trade Commission and involving 16 departments and agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Education.  OnGuard Online─ in addition to other Federal Government Internet safety platforms like Stop.Think.Connect and Safe Online Surfing─ will begin including information about online violent extremism.  This information also will be posted on the Countering Violent Extremism homepage on the Department of Homeland Security’s website and updated to reflect new best practices and research.

Second, the Federal Government will work with local organizations throughout the country to disseminate information about the threat.  One reason for the success of Federal Government Internet safety awareness efforts is that they work closely with local organizations — such as school districts, Parent Teacher Associations, local government, and law enforcement — to communicate to communities.  Law enforcement is a particularly important partner in raising awareness about radicalization to violence and is already developing materials with support from the Department of Justice. Law enforcement departments and agencies have established Internet safety programs and relationships with community members and local organizations that can reach multiple audiences with critical information about the threat of online violent extremism and recruitment. Departments and agencies will provide the latest assessments of this threat to our local partners and encourage them to incorporate this information into their programs and initiatives.

Third, departments and agencies will use our preexisting engagement with communities to provide information about Internet safety and details about how violent extremists are using the Internet to target and exploit communities.  U.S. Attorneys throughout the country, who historically have engaged with communities on a range of public safety issues, are coordinating these Federal engagement efforts at the local level, with support from other departments and agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Education.  U.S. Attorneys and others involved in community engagement will seek to incorporate information about Internet radicalization to violence into their efforts, as appropriate.  At the same time, the Federal Government will engage with State, local, and tribal government and law enforcement officials to learn from their experiences in addressing online threats, including violent extremism.

Going Forward

As the Federal Government implements this effort in the coming months, we will continue to investigate and prosecute those who use the Internet to recruit others to plan or carry out acts of violence, while ensuring that we also continue to uphold individual privacy and civil liberties.  Preventing online radicalization to violence requires both proactive solutions to reduce the likelihood that violent extremists affect their target audiences as well as ensuring that laws are rigorously enforced. 

For a fact sheet on Countering Online Radicalization to Violence, click here (PDF).

January is National Stalking Awareness Month
January 29th, 2013 Posted by

Every morning at the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), as one of our first items of business, my staff and I check the headlines related to violence against women – many of those stories involve stalking. On just one day, I read about a murder suspect who was arrested for stalking a witness; a man who was found guilty by a federal jury of stalking his estranged wife and taking her across the state line; and a man who pled guilty to stalking a 13-year-old boy. This small sample illustrates just how complex, misunderstood, and highly underestimated the crime of stalking is in communities across our nation.

Stalking is more prevalent than many people realize, affecting more than six million people a year. One in 6 women and 1 in 19 men have experienced serious stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime. As the headlines suggest, anyone can be a victim of stalking, but females are nearly three times more likely to be stalked than males, and young adults have the highest rates of stalking victimization.

Unfortunately, stalking is still not widely recognized as a dangerous crime that is often a precursor for serious violence, including rape and homicide, and a terrifying aspect of domestic violence. The media too often trivializes it – portraying stalking as romantic or comedic rather than traumatizing and potentially lethal. We can all picture advertisements, songs and movies that send young people the insidious message that stalking is a way to express love. However, many of us are working to counteract these negative messages and speak out on behalf of victims in our communities.

This Administration is focused on the issue of stalking and has expressed its commitment to developing a strong criminal justice response and providing victims with the appropriate services and supports they need. As the President stated in his proclamation of January as National Stalking Awareness Month, the last year has seen remarkable efforts and marked progress in communities that are tackling this issue.  I’d like to take a moment to recognize some of the exceptional work that is taking place nationwide:

  • In Palm Beach County, Florida, victim service and criminal justice professionals formed an Anti-Stalking Multidisciplinary Collaborative. They received national and state training on stalking issues and developed an anti-stalking toolkit as a resource for all victim service professionals throughout Palm Beach County.
  • The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence secured a grant to develop kits to help victims document stalking. The kits include logs, digital recorders, and other resources to assist victims in substantiating the stalking behaviors they experience.
  • The University of Iowa organized a group of stakeholders to enhance campus policies that address stalking, including the student code of conduct, anti-violence policies and anti-sexual harassment policies.
  • The Iowa Attorney General’s Crime Victim Assistance Division along with other agencies including the Law Enforcement Academy, Medical Examiner’s Office, Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Departments of Public Health and Public Safety teamed up to conduct a series of multi-disciplinary conferences on responding to victims of stalking.
  • The University of Kentucky Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and OutrageUs launched “The Stalking Project,” a series of videos and other resources designed to educate and shine a spotlight on one of the nation’s most misunderstood areas of partner violence. The Stalking Project hopes to give voice to the often silent victims of stalking.
  • Florida and Arizona strengthened their stalking statutes by amending their laws to include any contacts or threats made by electronic communication.

OVW has played an active role in educating and raising awareness about the crime of stalking. We fund both formula and discretionary grant programs that address the crime of stalking. The OVW-supported National Center for Victims of Crime Stalking Resource Center has provided training to tens of thousands of victim service providers and criminal justice professionals throughout the United States on stalking dynamics, legal remedies, multidisciplinary efforts, practitioner-specific practices, and the use of technology to stalk. I encourage you to visit their Stalking Awareness Month website to learn more about stalking and what you can do to stop it.

During Stalking Awareness Month, please take a few minutes to learn more about programs and initiatives like the ones I list above. Spread the word about the dangers of stalking and let your friends, colleagues, social networks, campuses, and communities know that this is a serious issue with a direct correlation to violence and homicide. We need your help to raise the nation’s awareness and put stalking prevention, intervention, and prosecution front and center. We cannot prevent violence against women until we make ending stalking a priority.

17 Years of AMBER Alerts Result in More than 600 Rescued Children
January 11th, 2013 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary.

On January 13th, the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP) observes the day in 1996 when nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted in Arlington, Texas, while riding her bicycle.  Her abduction and brutal murder launched the creation of the AMBER (America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response) Alert program.  On this day we remind everyone to recommit themselves and remain alert and responsive to these emergency broadcasts for missing children.       

Because of AMBER Alerts, 602 abducted children have been successfully recovered and brought home safely.

In the aftermath of Amber Hagerman’s abduction and murder, local broadcasters joined with law enforcement to create the AMBER Alert system.  AMBER Alerts are emergency messages issued when a law enforcement agency determines that a child has been abducted and is in imminent danger.  The broadcasts include information about the child and abductor that could lead to the child’s recovery, such as physical description and information about the abductor’s vehicle.

We know that the first few hours a child is missing are critical.  That’s why, as the National AMBER Alert Coordinator, I’m pleased to have seen a rapid expansion in our partnerships and ability to get the word out quickly. 

With funding from OJP, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) manages distribution of AMBER Alerts to a network of partners including law enforcement, radio and TV broadcasters, transportation agencies, lottery and highway signs, airports and truck stops, Yahoo, Facebook and AOL. 

In November 2011, Google joined the network, providing real-time AMBER Alert updates to users of Google Map and Google Search features.  And as of January 1, 2013, millions of cellphone users across the country now receive automatic notifications about abducted children in their area as part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) program.

OJP provides targeted training and technical assistance to AMBER Alert Coordinators, law enforcement, child protection professionals and other key stakeholders to support their efforts to recover abducted, missing and endangered children and bring them home safely. 

Resources are also available through NCMEC’s website for parents on how to keep your child safer, know what to do if your child is missing, understand the importance of having a good quality photo of your child, and other frequently asked questions.

We will continue to work to protect our nation’s children from harm and to bring missing children home safely.

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Sex Trafficking – Closer to Your Neighborhood than You Think
January 11th, 2013 Posted by

Courtesy of Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia
She was just 14 years old, barely a teenager, who had run away from home and was in desperate need of support, food and a place to sleep.
She was approached by a man who offered to take her in, give her a hot meal, a roof over her head and perhaps, a shoulder to cry on. She didn’t know that this man’s offer would come with such a price.  
At her most vulnerable, this young girl was lured into the vile world of sexual slavery, enduring unconscionable horrors, night after night, for weeks and then months as she was prostituted for profit by the MS-13 gang.   She was plied with drugs and alcohol, sedating her through the repeated and often brutal sexual encounters she suffered at the hands of her “clients” and the men who trafficked her throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia.  
Today, January 11th is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.  While most people think sex trafficking is limited to third-world brothels and remote places you ponder just long enough to change the news channel, the reality belies that myth. According to the International Justice Mission, each year, nearly 2 million children worldwide are exploited in the global commercial sex trade; 27 million men, women and children are held as slaves; 1 in 5 women is a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.  We cannot pretend that this is a problem that only occurs across our oceans.  With the globalization of the internet and the international reach of 21st century criminal networks, the commercial sex trade has spread from the back alleys of far-off countries to our neighborhood cul de sacs.  Criminals know no borders, and that is especially true with regards to sex trafficking.  It is happening here in the United States, and is an emerging threat right here in our communities.  
Just in the last two years, my office, which covers the area of Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Tidewater region, has prosecuted 48 defendants; helped 34 juvenile victims seek justice; and secured substantial sentences, to include 40, 50 year and life terms in prison.   These cases involve young girls approached by traffickers at the Metro, at bus stops or even at school, luring them with empty and false promises.  These predators have adapted for the modern technological era- using Facebook and other social media outlets to prey on young victims, from all walks of life.  Victims have ranged from runaway teens to girls on the high school honor roll, but they all have one thing in common:  they need our help.  
The mantras to ‘be aware’ and ‘be vigilant’ are perhaps overused in law enforcement parlance, but here, it can truly make a difference.  Traffickers often pull up brazenly to convenience stores or shopping mall parking lots, shouting that they have “fresh girls” available.  These girls often live in groups together in their trafficker’s apartment or house, living in suburbia along-side unaware neighbors.  They post the girls’ pictures, advertising them on websites, exploiting their innocence in perpetuity on the internet.
We, in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice are working hard to put these predators behind bars, but we also need help from the eyes and ears of the community.  If only a shopper at the mall would call in a license plate number.  If only a neighbor who saw something amiss would call the police, instead of turning away.  If only a motel owner would report the line of men outside a motel room to the authorities.  
Thankfully, the 14 year old victim I speak of did not become an “if only.”  Her trafficker was caught, brought to justice and is currently where he belongs — in federal prison. With your help, we can prevent more young girls from becoming “if onlys” and stop the scourge of the commercial sex trade on our communities.

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Strengthening Indigent Defense: Understanding State and Federal Resources
December 31st, 2012 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of the Access to Justice Initiative.

On January 22, 2013,  the Department of Justice and the National Criminal Justice Association will host a webinar focused on understanding state and federal resources.

During the webinar, we will highlight some of the state and federal resources available to the public defense community, and discuss the Justice Department’s recent efforts to encourage jurisdictions to bring all system stakeholders together in the criminal justice planning process for the allocation of Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) funds.

Representatives from the Department of Justice will discuss funding opportunities available through the Byrne JAG program, federal support for public defense initiatives, current opportunities for training and technical assistance, and will highlight the work of DOJ’s Access to Justice Initiative.  In addition, webinar attendees will hear from state public defenders about the process of applying for grant funds and review strategies for integrating the indigent defense function into criminal justice resource planning.  

During this 50th anniversary year of Gideon v. Wainright, the landmark case that secured the right to counsel in criminal proceedings, the Justice Department is placing renewed emphasis on helping states meet their constitutional obligation to provide effective representation to indigent defendants. 

The webinar will be held on January 22nd, 2013, at 3pm.

Register for the Strengthing Indigent Defense Webinar via the National Criminal Justice Association.

Learn more: Department of Justice Resources for Indigent Defense Providers(PDF).  

POSTED IN: Access to Justice  |  PERMALINK
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