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.
According to the criteria released by the Justice Department, prisoners must be:
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?
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.
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.