(November 23, 2021, Washington, DC) — Steptoe & Johnson LLP attorneys Charles Mills, Katie Dubyak, and Lisa Southerland recently secured freedom for pro bono client David Gordon from Maryland's Western Correctional Institution (WCI). After serving 35 years for a crime committed at 16, the now 51-year-old Gordon has been released into a supportive program to transition back into society.
In 1987, the Circuit Court for Baltimore City tried Gordon as an adult, sentencing him to life in prison for an impulsive crime he committed as a teenager. Unfortunately, an extreme crackdown on violent crime in the 80s and 90s led Maryland governors to refuse parole to lifers for more than 20 years, resulting in the proliferation of individuals like Gordon who were in effect sentenced to life without parole for crimes they committed as minors. In recent years, Maryland's criminal justice paradigm has shifted towards rehabilitation for youth offenders, providing Steptoe's pro bono with team a unique opportunity to make a difference.
In late 2017, Steptoe began representing Gordon after receiving the case from the Maryland Juvenile Lifer Parole Representation Project. The firm worked with Gordon on his parole hearing, achieving its first success in July 2021, when the Maryland Parole Commission recommended that Gordon be granted parole.
The pro bono team's breakthrough came with the passage of the Juvenile Restoration Act (JRA), which went into effect on October 1, 2021. The JRA created a new procedure for juveniles convicted as adults and who have served at least twenty years for the offense to seek a sentence reduction based upon a showing that they are not a danger to the public and that such a reduction in sentence will serve the interests of justice.
Steptoe filed a JRA motion on Gordon's behalf in October 2021 – a motion that the State Attorney's Office supported. On November 16, 2021, Judge Robert K. Taylor, Jr. held a hearing on that motion in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Arguing in court, Steptoe's lawyers pointed to Gordon's history as a model prisoner at WCI, where he has not received an infraction since 2004. Dubyak told Judge Taylor that Gordon "has been transformed from an impulsive, reckless teen to the mature, thoughtful man you see today."
Judge Taylor granted Gordon's JRA motion, reducing his sentence to time already served, and Gordon formally received his freedom this week. Having spent the majority of his life imprisoned, Gordon is overjoyed to receive a second chance. He looks forward to giving back to his community and re-entering society with the support of family and friends and of No Struggle, No Success Inc., an organization that provides supportive re-entry services.
Thrilled by the outcome, Southerland commented, "It’s clear to us that David Gordon is just not the same person he was at age 16, and we are ecstatic that the court also recognized his remorse and rehabilitation." Dubyak continued, "Redemption and rehabilitation should be the ultimate goal, with inmates given the possibility to learn, grow, and reenter society as citizens – not singularly defined by their mistakes."
In more than 100 years of practice, Steptoe has earned an international reputation for vigorous representation of clients before governmental agencies, successful advocacy in litigation and arbitration, and creative and practical advice in structuring business transactions. Steptoe has more than 500 lawyers and other professional staff across offices in Beijing, Brussels, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington. For more information, visit www.steptoe.com.