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The History of NACDL


The history of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), which was first established the National Association of Defense Lawyers in Criminal Cases (NADLCC) in 1958.


For its first 11 years, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers was called the National Association of Defense Lawyers in Criminal Cases (NADLCC). It was formed in 1958 at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, immediately following a new program at Northwestern University Law School, the “Short Course for Defense Lawyers,” organized by Prof. Fred E. Inbau. The first meeting of the NADLCC in 1959 featured programs including “Discovery Opportunities Available to the Defense,” “The Federal Exclusionary Rule,” and “Illegal Detention and Admissibility of Confessions.”


In the next decade, the Warren Court would overrule Wolf v. Colorado and apply the 4th Amendment’s exclusionary rule to the states (Mapp v. Ohio, 1961), hold that prosecutors have a duty to divulge evidence favorable to the defense (Brady v. Maryland, 1963), and provide for procedural safeguards guaranteeing the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer during custodial interrogations (Miranda v. Arizona, 1966).

During this historic decade, the criminal defense lawyer’s public image changed from one shaped by film noir and the novels of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, to “Perry Mason,” a protector of the rights of the individual and a champion of the Bill of Rights. Criminal defense lawyers became respectable.



On the morning of August 11th, all of the lawyers, as well as the speakers who were to participate in the [Short Course for Criminal Lawyers] program, were present in Cook Hall on the campus of Northwestern Law School. Erle Stanley Gardner, who was famous for his “Perry Mason” books and television program, made the opening speech…. After the speeches were over, we moved to the Drake Hotel for lunch and we took up the program of the defense lawyers. Notable amongst those present were Charles A. Bellows, Robert B. Oxtoby and Professor Claude R. Sowle…. It was during this meeting that the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF DEFENSE LAWYERS IN CRIMINAL CASES came into being.

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