Judicial Responsibility for Justice in Criminal Courts

This conference will bring together judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, scholars, and criminal justice policy experts to identify practical reforms to improve the quality of justice delivered by judges in overburdened and underfunded state and local criminal justice systems.

For too long, judges — notably in misdemeanor courts — have been engaged in case processing where speed of disposition, rather than appropriate necessary and just decision-making, is the standard practice. In great measure, this derives from a funding crisis, but even with limited resources, concrete practices can be adopted to improve the delivery of procedural and substantive justice.

The conference will focus on high-volume misdemeanor courts and will explore the impediments to and reforms needed to ensure effective justice in all stages of the criminal process. For example, in some jurisdictions, defendants do not have lawyers at the first appearance, at arraignment or for bail setting. What is the judge’s responsibility in such circumstances? In other jurisdictions, defense lawyers are so overburdened that they cannot ethically handle the cases. What should or must a judge do? What is the judge’s role in plea bargaining and sentencing? Does the judge have an obligation to consider or inform defendants about the collateral consequences of a conviction?

The conference will be held at Hofstra Law School on April 6 and hosted by the Monroe H. Freedman Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics. It is co-sponsored by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Foundation for Criminal Justice, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the Center for Court Innovation. The planning committee includes judges who are board members of the American Judges Association and the National Center for State Courts.

The format for each panel is an interactive discussion led by the moderator.

The conference will produce a report for publication as well articles for an academic journal.