Fairness and Equality for All

McGuireWoods’ Appellate Justice Initiative includes dozens of volunteer lawyers, paralegals and professional staff dedicated to protecting the rights of criminal defendants and effecting real change in the criminal justice arena.

Working closely with the firm’s Racial Justice Task Force and pro bono teams, we make a difference by identifying and challenging at the appellate level practices that infringe on the constitutional rights of defendants — especially those affected by racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

For questions about McGuireWoods’ Appellate Justice Initiative, email aji@mcguirewoods.com.

 

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REAL-LIFE IMPACT

CLARIFYING THE RIGHT TO CROSS-EXAMINE ACCOMPLICES

In a case with nationwide implications, McGuireWoods has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify the scope of a defendant’s rights under the Confrontation Clause. Convicted of drug offenses in federal court based on the testimony of four alleged accomplices, our client was not allowed to cross-examine these witnesses about the magnitude of the sentencing benefit they received from the prosecution for their testimony. Similar restrictions are allowed in courts around the country. On June 21, 2021, McGuireWoods filed a petition for a writ of certiorari asking the high court to clarify that the Confrontation Clause entitles a defendant to cross-examine alleged accomplices about the sentencing benefits received in exchange for their cooperation.

DEFENDING INDIGENT INMATE’S SPEEDY TRIAL RIGHTS

A North Carolina prison’s restrictive mail policy prevented an indigent inmate from sending documents to invoke his right to a speedy trial on charges he faced in another county, forcing him to plead guilty. On June 25, 2021, McGuireWoods asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to find that the prison’s policies violated our client’s rights under the First Amendment.

MAJOR AEDPA WIN IN FEDERAL HABEAS CASE

In 2020, McGuireWoods won a significant victory in the 4th Circuit on behalf of a West Virginia prisoner who challenged his life sentence based on his prior attorney’s alleged ineffective assistance in advising against accepting a plea agreement. The 4th Circuit ordered the state to re-offer the plea deal — a major win because state prisoners rarely satisfy the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s criteria in federal habeas litigation.

AUTOMATIC LICENSE SUSPENSIONS END FOR FAILURE TO PAY COURT FEES

In 2019, McGuireWoods and McGuireWoods Consulting joined the Legal Aid Justice Center to lead — and win — the fight to end Virginia’s unconstitutional practice of automatically suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court fines and costs.

ISSUE OF FIRST IMPRESSION REGARDING ACCESS TO PRISON VIDEO

McGuireWoods won a precedent-setting 4th Circuit appeal for a client who lost “good time credits” when charged in prison disciplinary proceedings. In the 2019 opinion, the court said federal inmates have a due process right to access and compel official consideration of video surveillance evidence in prison disciplinary proceedings and such evidence should be withheld only if hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals.

LARGEST SINGLE-PLAINTIFF HUMAN TRAFFICKING AWARD IN U.S. HISTORY

In 2018, McGuireWoods won nearly $8 million in damages for a human trafficking survivor in a federal suit against a “regimented cult” and the group’s leader, who forced our client to work since she was a child without pay, benefits or breaks for a decade. We prevailed in this federal civil suit for our pro bono client and the court’s decision now serves as a model in this developing area of law.

FOURTH AMENDMENT WIN FOR PRO BONO CLIENT AT U.S. SUPREME COURT

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with McGuireWoods’ client and ruled decisively that police officers without a warrant cannot use the automobile exception to enter a home’s curtilage to access a vehicle. The 2018 ruling, which provided needed clarity to the scope of the automobile exception, became part of police training across the country, and the case stands as a major bulwark protecting the sanctity of the home from creeping exceptions.

DEATH SENTENCE CHANGED TO LIFE IN PRISON FOR TEXAS INMATE

In 2016, McGuireWoods successfully persuaded the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to change a client’s death sentence to life in prison, affirming a trial court ruling that the defendant is intellectually disabled and constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty.

ENSURED VIRGINIA COURTS MUST CONSIDER SUPPRESSED EVIDENCE

A Virginia inmate learned of suppressed evidence that could potentially exonerate him of a murder conviction, but the state’s statute of limitations prevented the court from considering the evidence. McGuireWoods appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled in 2015 that state courts must consider illegally suppressed exculpatory evidence regardless of when it is discovered.

 

APPELLATE JUSTICE INITIATIVE STEERING COMMITTEE

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