Center on the Administration of Criminal Law

Guiding Principles for Litigation

Most of the cases the Center litigates are at the appellate level so that the Center can have input on questions of law.  Because the Supreme Court of the United States is responsible for the most important criminal justice cases, Supreme Court litigation is a key part of the appellate litigation component.  But the Center also focuses on federal appellate courts and state appellate courts, including the New York Court of Appeals.  In addition, the Center participates in cases at the trial level if they raise issues of national importance and tap into the Center’s expertise.

The issues to be litigated arise at any stage in the investigative or litigation process.  Many of the issues the Center seeks to litigate arise in the sentencing phase, but issues arising out of plea bargaining, charging decisions, investigations, and trials are also part of the litigation strategy.  One goal of the Center’s litigation strategy is to create more robust substantive review of the length of non-death penalty sentences.

A primary guiding principle in selecting cases to litigate is to identify cases in which prosecutors or other government officials exercised discretion to engage in overaggressive or unwarranted interpretations of the Constitution, statutes, regulations, or policies in a way that diverges from standard practices, raises fundamental questions of defendants’ rights, or is a misuse of government resources in light of law enforcement priorities, particularly in cases involving victimless crimes.

The Center also defends exercises of prosecutorial or governmental discretion from unfounded criticism, when appropriate, where the discretionary decisions comported with applicable law and standard practices and are consistent with law enforcement priorities.  The Center has a particular focus on assisting the government in prosecutions vindicating victims' rights, especially in cases involving violent crime.

Read about the cases in which the Center has participated recently.