ILNews

Justice Department outlines new clemency initiative

IL Staff
April 23, 2014
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The U.S. Department of Justice Wednesday announced its initiative to encourage qualified federal inmates to petition to have their sentences commuted or reduced by the president of the United States.

The initiative stems from the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced disparities in sentences for offenses involving crack cocaine, but that Act does not apply to those who were sentence before its passage in 2010.

Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said at a press conference, “The fundamental American concept, equal justice under law, requires that our laws be enforced fairly – and not just going forward, but it is equally important that we extend this fairness to those who are already serving prison sentences for their crimes.”

Prisoners who want their sentences reduced or commuted must meet six criteria: (1) inmates who are currently 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 today; (2) are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels; (3) have served at least 10 years of their sentence; (4) do not have a significant criminal history; (5) have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and (6) have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment. The initiative is not limited to crack cocaine offenders.

As part of the initiative, offenders who meet these criteria will be offered the assistance of an experienced pro bono attorney in preparing his or her application for clemency.

Once the DOJ has made a preliminary determination that a petition is worthy of serious consideration, it will consult with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the trial judge that handled the case to get their views on whether to grant the application.

American Bar Association President James R. Silkenat, said in a press release that the ABA welcomed President Barack Obama’s intention to extend clemency to some prisoners who have suffered decades of unequal and unfair disparities in sentencing.

“Public confidence in the criminal justice system is directly linked to fairly imposed punishments, a principle President Obama and the Department of Justice recognize and appear poised to advance. Today’s announcement of the clemency initiative represents months of hard work by the DOJ, members of the ABA and lawyers from other organizations. This clemency initiative is a step forward for equal justice, something the ABA and its members fight for every day,” Sikenat said.  
Clemency Project 2014, a working group composed of the Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, as well as individuals active within those organizations, released a statement in support of Cole’s announcement. Clemency Project members will collaborate to recruit and train attorneys on how to screen for prisoners who meet the criteria laid out by the deputy attorney general.

“Our federal sentencing laws have shattered families and wasted millions of dollars,” said Vanita Gupta, ACLU deputy legal director. “Too many people—particularly people of color—have been locked up for far too long for nonviolent offenses. The President now has a momentous opportunity to correct these injustices in individual cases.”

The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014 looks to focus federal resources on the most serious offenders.

 

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  1. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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