Reform Discussed at Criminal Law and Justice Conference

BYU Law’s 2018 Criminal Law and Justice Conference gave policymakers, lawyers, and scholars an opportunity to discuss methods of criminal justice reform at both the national and local levels. Highlighting the event were two keynote speakers: U.S. Senator Mike Lee and Erik Luna, Professor at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor Law School and Director of the Academy for Justice.

Erik Luna

Criminal justice reform has been a point of discussion for a long time, but academics have been underrepresented in the movement and scholarly works are often inaccessible. Luna’s address centered on bridging the gap between scholarship and reform of the criminal justice system.

To begin that process, Luna explained, he participated in the formation of an academic alliance called the Academy for Justice. Last year, the Academy brought together experts from various fields in criminal law, economics, psychology. They gathered  at ASU Law to produce a detailed report on various topics in criminal justice reform. The unprecedented 4-volume, 500,000-word report was published and rolled out in Washington, D.C. Its contents included the prosecutorial process, sentencing schemes, and accountability in policing among others. The overall goal was to communicate reforms to a non-legal or academic audience.

“This movement is not to eliminate the criminal justice system — it is to make it better for everyone involved,” Luna said.

Mike Lee

Senator Lee focused his remarks on the need for criminal justice reform to be treated as a non-partisan issue. Senator Lee, a Republican from Utah, and  Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, reached across the aisle and began working together on criminal justice reform, creating a committee to address the issue. Thanks to that non-partisan work, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 was passed. This particular act addresses reform of a variety of aspects of criminal justice, including many federal prisons and back-end reform to help individuals reintegrate into society.

“The core of the mission is the deep and abiding belief that there is value – eternal, innate, intrinsic and God-given value — in each human soul… While we’re here on this earth as flawed creatures, we are also redeemable… In most instances we can find ways for our offenders to be rehabilitated and released,” Lee said.



The conference also conducted panels on topics such as pretrial reform, prison and sentencing reform, problem-solving courts, use of predictive algorithms in criminal risk assessments, and Utah’s evolving approach to indigent defense. A complete list of the panels and panelists is below:

“Risk Assessments and Utah’s New Pretrial Release System”

Panelists: Connor Boyack, President of Libertas Institute; Edward Flint, Criminal Defense Attorney; and Brett Tolman, Former U.S. Attorney for Utah.

“The Utah Justice Reinvestment Initiative”

Panelists: Benji McMurray, Assistant Federal Public Defender at Utah Federal Public Defender; Brock Belnap, Washington County Attorney; Kim Cordova, Executive Director of Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice; and Ron Gordon, General Counsel to Governor Gary Herbert.

“Utah’s Problem-Solving Courts”

Panelists: Alexander Ramos, Assistant Federal Public Defender at Utah Federal Public Defender; Jennifer Gully, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah; Robert Steele, Assistant Federal Public Defender at Utah Federal Public Defender; and Judge Brooke C. Wells, Federal Magistrate Judge for the District of Utah.

“Recent Noteworthy Criminal Law Decisions”

Panelists: Freyja Johnson, Appellate Attorney at Zimmerman Booher; Jennifer Gully, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah; John Nielsen, Assistant Solicitor General at Utah Attorney General’s Office; Nathalie Skibine, Appellate Attorney at Salt Lake Legal Defender Association; and Scott Wilson, First Assistant at Utah Federal Public Defender.

“Indigent Defense: Utah’s Response to a Constitutional Requirement”

Panelists: Joanna Landau, Director of Utah Indigent Defense Commission; Kevin Daniels, Sanpete County Attorney; Judge Jared Eldridge, Fourth District Court Judge; and Stephen Frazier, Partner at Esplin Weight.

“Use of Predictive Algorithms in Criminal Justice”

Panelists: Marshall Thompson, Director of Utah Sentencing Commission; Jason Groth, Smart Justice Coordinator at ACLU of Utah; Raechel Lizon, Research Consultant at Utah Board of Pardons and Parole; and Suresh Venkatasubramanian, Professor of Computing at the University of Utah.

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