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 think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.