Reforming America's Criminal Justice System

The firm has a longstanding commitment to defending the rights of individuals whose liberty is threatened by the government.

This work accounts for a substantial proportion of the firm's pro bono practice and is at the core of our pro bono practice and values. Efforts in this area include an active death penalty docket, post-conviction and wrongful conviction matters, dozens of indigent defense representations, as well as impact cases and advocacy efforts seeking to address the ills of our nationwide mass incarceration epidemic.

Representative Matters

Fighting Racial Profiling

Covington led systemic class action cases seeking to end the racially discriminatory police practice of stop & frisk in Milwaukee and New York City. In Maricopa County, AZ, we challenged the sheriff’s use of pretextual traffic stops targeting the Latino community. We achieved successful outcomes in all three cases. We co-counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights in litigation challenging traffic checkpoints targeting Black drivers in Buffalo, NY. We successfully settled a case challenging racial profiling of Black youth by private security and local police at a large shopping mall. In 2020, we were among the first firms to join the ACLU of Louisiana’s litigation campaign, “Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial,” a collaboration involving private law firms committed to collectively representing hundreds of individuals in Louisiana who have been victimized by racially-motivated stops and seizures by police.

Reforming Inequitable Bail Practices

Covington, alongside the ACLU, sued the 36th District Court in Detroit and the Wayne County sheriff in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The plaintiffs alleged the only reason they remained in jail was because they could not afford bail. The lawsuit also claimed violations of the right to counsel because poor people accused of a crime were not provided with an attorney at bail hearings. In July 2022, the parties reached a historic settlement under which the 36th district court will implement reforms that require all of its judges and magistrates to establish an on-record determination of how much a defendant can afford to pay. Additionally, the overhaul requires an on-record determination of how imposing bail would protect the community or prevent a failure to appear. The agreement does not bar judges from imposing cash bail if defendants are deemed a flight risk or a danger to the public.

By agreeing to settle this federal class-action lawsuit, the 36th District Court took a strike at racial inequality in the criminal justice system. Chief Judge William McConico said settling the class-action lawsuit presented an opportunity to show that law enforcement and activists can work together to change the criminal justice system. Advocates say the reforms could create a template for reformed bail practices nationwide.

Pressing for Criminal Justice Reform

The Marshall Project (TMP) is an award-winning nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to covering America’s criminal justice system. Covington attorneys provide TMP with media law advice, including  on First Amendment, FOIA, copyright and privacy issues. We also advise TMP on its partnerships with other news organizations and media companies. Through our work, we help further TMP's mission to "strive to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice."

Defending Against the Death Penalty in the U.S.

Covington represents clients facing the death penalty during the trial, appeal, and post-conviction phases, with ten active cases in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas. Covington has been honored for its capital defense practice, receiving recognition from, among others, the American Bar Association, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, the Office of the Public Defender of Maryland, and the New York City Bar Association. Beyond seeking justice for individuals on Death Row, the firm aims to have broad impact on the use of capital punishment in the United States including, in recent years, establishing important precedent for Alabama’s death-penalty bar and playing an active role in the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland.

Combating Wrongful Convictions

Through our relationship with the Innocence Project of New Orleans, the firm assists Louisiana exonerees in obtaining compensation for wrongful convictions, including obtaining a $1.88 million settlement for an exonerated client who had served nearly 20 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit.

Advocating Against Mass Incarceration

We engage in both litigation and policy advocacy seeking to turn the tide of mass incarceration and its racially disparate impacts. We represent individual clients seeking compassionate release, parole, and expungement in Washington, DC, New York, and California. We successfully advocated for the expansion of “good time credits in Washington, DC, allowing some individuals to be eligible for earlier parole. We also provided research support to the Washington Lawyers' Committee to aid its efforts to address racial disparities in arrests and collateral consequences of arrests, and we helped to lead successful advocacy reforming drug policy and passing “ban-the-box” legislation in Washington, DC.

Advocating for Safe and Humane Prisons

Covington has a long-standing commitment to holding prison systems to account for inhumane treatment of prisoners, with a focus on prison populations which are particularly vulnerable. In recent years, we have litigated class action cases seeking to ensure that female inmates get adequate health services, inmates who are deaf have access to sign language interpretation for critical communication with prison officials, and prisoners with serious mental illness receive treatment and are protected from illegal solitary confinement and abuse at the hands of other prisoners or prison staff. In 2020, we settled a 35-year long class action seeking to redress conditions in the juvenile justice system in DC.