Richmond lawyer Steven D. Benjamin has taken the helm of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Taking office Saturday as the 2012-13 president of NACDL at the group’s San Francisco meeting, Benjamin pledged to promote the use of scientific evidence on behalf of the accused.
Benjamin said defense lawyers have learned to challenge the reliability of scientific evidence offered by the prosecution. He hopes to see defense lawyers make the science work for them.
“I want to train our lawyers to use good science to detect the truth and to prove their cases,” he said.
Benjamin plans a NACDL collaborative session with the American Academy of Forensic Scientists when the two groups hold concurrent meetings in February in Washington.
Benjamin said he hopes to promote the constitutional protection against unreasonable government search and seizure, specifically noting increases in the use of drone observation and other government surveillance. He said he has asked for a presentation on the threat to the 4th Amendment and the exclusionary rule that keeps ill-gotten evidence out of court.
A third goal, Benjamin said, is to renew the “passion” of criminal defense lawyers for their work in an effort to ensure effective counsel for the accused. Fifty years after the Supreme Court guaranteed legal help for criminal defendants, the right is threatened by what Benjamin called “paltry resources, low pay and crushing caseloads.”
The promise of the landmark Gideon case “might be the promise of a warm body with a law license and not much more,” Benjamin said. He said he hopes to use the recent wave of exonerations to leverage better resources for court-appointed lawyers.
Benjamin, 57, has practiced criminal law for 33 years. He serves as special counsel to the Virginia Senate Courts Committee and is a past president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.