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WASHINGTON – Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced today a new set of criteria the Justice Department and White House will use when considering clemency petitions from federal prisoners. The new criteria will help the Justice Department identify federal prisoners who, if sentenced today under current sentencing laws and policies, would likely have received a substantially lower sentence.
"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. If we're ever going to see truly systemic and smart reform of the federal criminal justice, however, we need Congress to step up and pass the Smarter Sentencing Act."
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, wholeheartedly supports Cole’s announcement and the Justice Department's plans to restore the integrity of the clemency process.
"The doors of the Office of the Pardon Attorney have been closed to petitioners for too long. This announcement signals a truly welcome change; the culture of "no" that has dominated that office is being transformed," said Mary Price, FAMM General Counsel. "We stand ready to assist in any way we can to support petitioners and bring their cases to the attention of the President."
Clemency Project 2014 launched in January after Deputy Attorney General James Cole asked the legal profession to provide pro bono assistance to federal prisoners who would likely have received a shorter sentenced if they'd been sentenced today.
NACDL President Jerry Cox said, "Clemency Project 2014 marks the beginning of the end of the age of mass incarceration. We must seize this historic opportunity to start the process of remedying decades of cruel and unnecessarily harsh sentencing policies. I call upon the nation’s lawyers, especially the criminal defense bar, to rise to this challenge in an unprecedented effort to restore hope and the prospect of an early return to freedom for the countless deserving individuals who are languishing in federal custody."
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. Pursuant to the criteria announced today, candidates eligible for clemency must be:
- serving a federal sentence;
- serving a sentence that, if imposed today, would be substantially shorter;
- have a non-violent history with no significant ties to organized crime, gangs or cartels;
- have served at least 10 years;
- have no significant prior convictions;
- and have demonstrated good conduct.
"Federal defenders have advocated for reform of the criminal justice system for many years, and we wholeheartedly endorse the President's commitment to lowering the sentences of prisoners who are serving unduly harsh sentences through the clemency process," said Michael Nachmanoff, Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Virginia. "In recent years, federal defenders have assisted thousands of defendants to reunite with their families through the crack retroactivity process, and we are eager to work with the other organizations affiliated with the Clemency Project 2014 to help many others serving unfair sentences that would not be imposed today."
While Clemency Project 2014 will focus on those cases that clearly fit the broad criteria described by Deputy Attorney General Cole, the groups stress that there are many other federal prisoners whose sentences are grossly disproportionate to the crimes for which they were convicted. The groups will continue to urge the Department of Justice and President Obama to vastly expand use of the clemency power to correct widespread injustice. Similarly, each organization participating in the Project supports legislative action to curtail sentencing laws that continue to cause unjust sentences.
Clemency Project 2014 looks forward to support and participation from other legal and community advocacy groups, and gratefully recognizes the early support of the National Action Network, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, as well as state bar associations, including the New York State Bar Association, before which Deputy Attorney General Cole first announced this initiative last January.
Lawyers interested in volunteering for the project may do so by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org