Answers to your Frequently Asked Questions about the New Clemency Initiative

Post Date: July 29, 2014

1.  What is the Justice Department’s new clemency initiative?

Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced a set of criteria the Justice Department and White House will use when considering clemency petitions from federal prisoners. The criteria will help the Justice Department identify federal prisoners who would be good candidates for clemency. He also announced steps to reinvigorate the Office of the Pardon Attorney, including naming a new Pardon Attorney and seeking additional staff. Read Deputy Attorney James Cole’s speech announcing the initiative and outlining the criteria here.

2.  What are the criteria?

According to the criteria released by the Justice Department, prisoners 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 in prison.

3.  How do I get help in figuring out whether I meet the criteria and/or help with a clemency petition?

Clemency Project 2014 can help with that. Clemency Project 2014 – a working group composed of lawyers and advocates including FAMM, the Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Bar Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, as well as individuals active within those organizations – 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. Clemency Project 2014 members collaborate to recruit and train attorneys on how to screen for prisoners who meet the criteria laid out by the deputy attorney general and assist prisoners who meet the criteria to find lawyers to represent them at no cost.  To learn more about Clemency Project 2014 click here

4.  What if a prisoner has served a little less than ten years?

We don’t know the answer to this question yet. Once we find out, we will let you know. When in doubt, however, the prisoner should fill out the survey if they want a volunteer lawyer to assist them. The Clemency Project 2014 will work to resolve these kinds of issues.

5.  Does it apply to career offenders?

Yes, but whether a prisoner meets the criteria will depend on the number and/or seriousness of the crimes that led to the career offender designation.

6.  Does it apply to white collar crimes?

Yes.

7.  Does it apply to child pornography crimes?

In his remarks after the announcement of the criteria, the Deputy Attorney General ruled out clemency for “child endangerment” crimes. Some people understand that term to include non-contact child pornography offenses. We are working to clarify whether the initiative will be open to prisoners sentenced for child pornography crimes and will provide you more information when we have it.

8.  Does it apply to gun crimes? If so, which cases?

We believe it will apply to certain gun crimes that are not accompanied by violence or use of the weapon. This will be determined on a case by case basis so we urge prisoners to fill out the survey if they are not sure if their crime involved violence or use of a weapon.

9.  If a defendant is found guilty of being part of a conspiracy that involved violence, but was NOT present at the crime which involved actually using the gun (for example, a bank robbery), do you think that the defendant should apply for a commutation of sentence if he meets EVERY other criteria as outlined thus far?

We don’t know and can’t answer questions – like this one – about specific cases. Clemency Project 2014 will be screening cases and taking a close look at cases like this that present close calls. We urge prisoners to fill out the survey if they are not sure they qualify and the Clemency Project 2014 will look into it further.

10.  If a prisoner is filing/has filed a post-conviction appeal/has a 2255 pending right now can s/he still apply for this new clemency initiative?

Yes. A prisoner with pending litigation should discuss this with their lawyer, if one has been assigned or retained. Having a pending post-conviction petition does not automatically bar a prisoner from seeking commutation through this initiative.

11.  What if a prisoner had a leadership role in their case?

The criteria do not include a ban on people with leadership roles; rather they address people who “are non-violent, low level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels.” We don’t know the exact meaning of “low level” but if the case meets all other criteria and the prisoner was truly low-level, we advise the prisoner to fill out the survey and the screening lawyer will sort out how significant the leadership role was. Even if the Clemency Project 2014 cannot ultimately assign a lawyer to represent you, you are free to submit your petition to the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

12.  Are prisoners who are not legal residents or citizens eligible? Are prisoner with immigration detainers eligible? Are prisoners serving time for illegal (re)entry eligible?

The clemency initiative is not limited to legal residents or U.S. citizens.

13.  When can I expect he/she will come home?

We cannot tell you if or when a prisoner who has asked for a sentence commutation will have their sentence reduced.

General Questions

14.  Is clemency the same as a commutation?

Commutation is one form of clemency; the other is a pardon.

15.  What’s the difference between a pardon and a commutation?

A commutation reduces the sentence a prisoner is serving. A pardon erases the consequences of a conviction and is generally granted after a person leaves prison.

16.  Can State inmates apply?

The clemency initiative announced by Deputy Attorney General James Cole only applies to federal prisoners. The President does not have any power to reduce sentences for state prisoners. Only governors can do that.

17.  Why is it just Federal?

The President has the authority, granted him by the U.S. Constitution, to commute (lower) federal sentences. He has no authority to commute state sentences. Only state governors have that power.

 

20 Responses to “Answers to your Frequently Asked Questions about the New Clemency Initiative”

    • Kate Taylor

      Hi LaTonya,

      Clemency Project 2014 will write to all federal prisoners who will out the survey and answer “yes” to the question asking if they would like free legal help, even if they do not appear to meet the criteria (it may take a while, though, so please be patient!). You could also ask the specific prisoner you are wondering to make sure he or she submitted the survey, but there is not currently any other way for you to check.

      Hope that helps,
      Kate

      Kate Taylor
      Case Research Director, FAMM

      Reply
  1. Chris

    This Clemency initiative started in April :)…sounds wonderful! and now its July and I still don’t know if my son is one of the persons chosen for the application. The guys where my son is haven’t heard anymore about the process either :( All we know is my son(Eddie) was sent a letter from the federal public defenders office in Cleveland asking him first(did he want it?)then asking him to send a letter stating why he deserve it? Its already frustrating not knowing,when you have no money to afford these fancy pancy lawyers :( what do you do? Hopefully some answers are out there (Happy 4th of July)

    Reply
    • Kate Taylor

      Hi Chris,
      Clemency Project 2014 will write to all federal prisoners who submit the BOP clemency survey and answer “yes” to the question asking if they want free legal help — this means both people who appear to meet the Department of Justice’s new clemency criteria and those who do NOT will hear from someone. It just takes a while, due to the large scale of the project. I’m sure it’s frustrating to have to continue to wait, but we really appreciate your patience.

      All the best,
      Kate

      Kate Taylor
      Case Research Director, FAMM

      Reply
  2. Johnny Chen

    How will federal prisoners who are serving time in private prisons benifit from this if they have no access to trulinks? How are the cases handled, first come first serve?

    Reply
    • Kate Taylor

      Hi Johnny,

      Federal prisoners without access to TruLinks should get a paper version of the survey from their case managers.

      All survey responses received by Clemency Project 2014 will be reviewed, but we are asking people to be patient as the process gets up and running.

      Hope that helps.
      Kate

      Kate Taylor
      Case Research Director, FAMM

      Reply
  3. juan monsivais

    I got a son in the.CCA and they don’t have a computers so how can they do.It this the clemency.

    Reply
    • Kate Taylor

      Federal prisoners without access to TruLinks or computers should get a paper version of the survey from their case managers.

      Hope that helps.
      Kate

      Kate Taylor
      Case Research Director, FAMM

      Reply
  4. Alice Clifton

    Thank You.How can I find out if my my son is eligible for the Clemency Initiative? I know he applied for an Attorney? He has ( yrs with good behavior. time. Thank You.

    Reply
    • Kate Taylor

      As long as your son submitted the BOP clemency survey and answered “yes” to the question asking if he wanted free legal help, his case will be reviewed by Clemency Project 2014 to see if he appears to meet the Department of Justice’s new clemency criteria. He will get a letter either way, it just may take a while. Thanks for being patient.

      Best,
      Kate

      Kate Taylor
      Case Research Director, FAMM

      Reply
    • Kate Taylor

      Hi Evelyn,

      Do you work with a firm? If so, you may want to talk to the partner in charge of pro bono work at your firm to see if you and maybe others in the firm can help out. If you are not with a firm, please email ClemencyProject@nacdl.org and put “Non-lawyer volunteer” in the subject line.

      Thanks for your interest!
      Kate

      Kate Taylor
      Case Research Director, FAMM

      Reply
  5. Lesley

    My father filled out the survey back in March or April, he has not heard anything from anyone about this project. However, sometime his mailed get delayed, lost or he never receives it, Is there another way to check and see if a lawyer or anyone has tried to contact him from the Clemency Project?

    Reply
    • Kate Taylor

      Hi Lesley,

      Your father will hear from Clemency Project 2014 as long as he filled out the survey and answered “yes” to the question asking if he wants free legal help, but it may take a while. He should not be worried that he has not yet heard.

      Hope that helps.
      Best,
      Kate

      Kate Taylor
      Case Research Director, FAMM

      Reply
  6. candy

    If an inmate has filled out the survey will they be notified either way. My brother submitted a survey 8 weeks ago and has not heard yet. Is there anything he should do?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Kate Taylor

      Hi Candy,

      Yes, Clemency Project 2014 will write to all federal prisoners who will out the survey and answer “yes” to the question asking if they would like free legal help, even if they do not appear to meet the criteria. So your brother will hear back, it just may take a little while.

      Hope that helps and best wishes.
      Kate

      Kate Taylor
      Case Research Director, FAMM

      Reply
  7. Malik

    I’ve been a Prisoner Activist since 1982 and would to be a “Non Lawyer Volunteer”.

    Reply
  8. Karla Francois

    An inmate family member filled out the survey and answered “yes” to the Free Legal Help question. Should he be concerned that he has not heard back from anyone yet? Is there a way to check on his survey submission?

    Thanks in advance.

    KF

    Reply
    • Meagan Heller

      Hi Karla,

      No, the Clemency Project is still in the process of obtaining and training legal volunteers. At this point, there is no option to check on his survey submission without submitting a new one, but tell your loved one to sit tight – the process is ongoing.

      Thanks,
      Meagan

      External Relations Director
      Families Against Mandatory Minimums

      Reply

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