Washington, D.C. (March 30, 2016) – In his first clemency grants since December of 2015, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 61 prisoners today, 25 of whom were applicants whose petitions were supported by Clemency Project 2014.
Cynthia W. Roseberry, project manager for Clemency Project 2014, said: "On behalf of Clemency Project 2014 and those whose sentences were commuted today, I want to sincerely thank the President for these grants. With so many people waking up each day with the hope that they too will find mercy and redemption, I hope that today’s grants portend ever more grants over the remaining ten months left in President Obama’s term."
"Clemency Project 2014, which was created to answer the administration's call for the legal profession to offer volunteer assistance to inmates, is grateful for every single commutation," said Norman L. Reimer, Executive Director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), a partner organization in Clemency Project 2014. "We salute the thousands of lawyers who have answered the call to service and enabled the Project to review nearly 30,000 requests and to submit nearly 600 petitions. The 61 grants today add to an increasingly impressive total, but we urge the President and his team to vastly increase the pace, and continue granting commutations on a regular basis throughout the remainder of his term."
Clemency Project 2014, an unprecedented, independent effort by the nation's bar, has recruited and trained nearly 4,000 volunteer lawyers from diverse practice backgrounds and completed screening of nearly 30,000 of the more than 35,000 federal prisoners who have requested volunteer assistance. As of today, Clemency Project 2014 has submitted nearly 600 petitions to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, with approximately 100 more nearing submission. The balance of the requests are at some stage of the review or drafting process. This significant progress has been made despite the myriad challenges faced by the Project, from the July 2014 decision of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to prohibit federal defenders from representing their clients in this historic effort to the difficulties involved in securing the necessary documentation to prepare a petition and the change in leadership in the office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney.
Lawyers hailing from more than 70 of the nation's largest and most prestigious law firms, 500 small firms and solo practitioners, 30 law schools and clinics, leading not-for-profit organizations, and the criminal defense bar are answering the call made in 2014 by former Deputy Attorney General James Cole before the New York State Bar Association. Cole announced that the Obama administration would consider commuting the prison sentences of non-violent offenders who had received severe prison sentences and who would, were they sentenced today, likely have received significantly lower sentences under current sentencing law and policy. He appealed to the legal profession to provide free assistance to help identify eligible prisoners and assist them in the preparation of clemency petitions.
According to the criteria released by the Department of Justice, prisoners must:
- currently be serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today;
- be non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels;
- have served at least 10 years of their sentence;
- have no significant criminal history;
- have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
- have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.
Clemency Project 2014 could not be more thankful for each and every one the lawyers who has dedicated their time to the Project, with those lawyers from the large law firms alone having already contributed over 50,000 hours to this crucial endeavor.
Despite the overwhelming response of the bar in what is perhaps the largest pro bono undertaking in the history of the American legal profession, and with just under ten months left in the Obama administration, a fraction of the more than 35,000 requests for assistance nonetheless remain unassigned. Accordingly, letters are going out in the next few days to those unassigned applicants explaining that there is a substantial likelihood that the Project will not find an attorney to take their case and submit a petition in time to be considered by the Obama administration. In light of the circumstances, including the remaining time frame, those letters suggest that applicants may wish to consider filing a petition directly with the office of the Pardon Attorney. The Project will continue to recruit and assign lawyers, and to the extent possible will offer pro bono assistance to those who file pro se in order to supplement those petitions.
For more information and to volunteer for Clemency Project 2014, please visit www.clemencyproject2014.org.
The American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Federal Public and Community Defenders, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have joined together under a working group they call Clemency Project 2014. Through the efforts of Clemency Project 2014, the participating organizations are identifying potential clemency petitioners and recruiting and training volunteer lawyers to assist them in securing clemency.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.