The Special Litigation Unit initiates class action and law reform case litigation on civil rights issues affecting Criminal Practice clients and provides trial and parole revocation attorneys with advice, training and litigation support on novel or complex legal questions, new court decisions, and legislative developments. The Unit’s litigation practice includes both individual and class action litigation designed to remedy systemic problems in the criminal justice system. Specific current areas of focus include criminal defense, sentencing, sex offender registration, forfeiture of property following an arrest, and sealing of arrest records. In addition to the daily advice and support function, SLU produces for the Criminal Practice lawyers the weekly Case Summaries, which contain summaries and analysis of recent court decisions. The Case Summaries, which have been published since 1988, are indexed by topic and available online to busy trial attorneys in need of a fast legal research resource. SLU also proposed a major reform of the restrictive and inefficient criminal discovery rules.
In the 1990s, SLU litigated the case that created the right to have a judge review a criminal charge within twenty-four hours of an arrest. In recent years, the SLU has successfully litigated class actions in federal court regarding such issues as the rights of people who have their automobiles taken by the City of New York to have a hearing to challenge the impoundments, the right of mentally ill individuals to have their sentences computed correctly by the Department of Correction, and the right of sex offenders to have a fair hearing to accurately determinate their risk to society and their registration and public notification levels.
Legislative advocacy on behalf of clients is another important function of the SLU. The Unit played a crucial role in the enactment of Rockefeller Drug Law Reform and continues to urge the adoption of additional measures that would allow more people to enter treatment programs and be diverted away from prison. SLU has successfully advocated for measures to enhance the employment opportunities of former offenders by preventing access to sealed criminal records.