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.

 

52 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
      • Chasiti

        Ho my name is chasiti nd my husband is currently in a Camp! He did receive papera to fill out for Clemency nd still has not heard anything about it! How can we find out if his paper was even received??? Its going on a year i believe!

        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. Lauren Schwenk

    Yes their needs to be a distinction made between non-contact child pornography crimes such as downloaded images and actual child endangerment crimes with children being harmed by the person who has been convicted. Non-violent means just that: a lack of harm in violent actions to others. Yes non-contact equates to a non-violent crime and these individuals should be included in the new incentives for commutation.

    Reply
  8. Malik

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

    Reply
  9. Diana Israel

    I am an ATA certified Spanish/English translator. Is there anything I can do to help?

    Reply
  10. 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
  11. Katie Lopez

    Is there an address we send the form to or does the inmate send the himself. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Lani Prunès

      Hello! The survey was sent to prisoners through a specific online program, and at this point they are no longer taking any more. Please know that the information gathered by them will be used to further sentencing reform, to represent the desires of prisoners and their families, and to make their voices heard. Thanks for being so willing to help!

      Reply
  12. Kim

    Are the surveys still available on Trulinks?

    If the inmate receives a paper copy of the survey from their case manager, how do they submit the survey? Do they turn it back in to their case manager or mail it?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Lani Prunès

      Hello! The survey was sent to prisoners through a specific online program, and at this point they are no longer taking any more. Please know that the information gathered by them will be used to further sentencing reform, to represent the desires of prisoners and their families, and to make their voices heard. Thanks for being so willing to help!

      Reply
  13. Cherl

    I want to start by saying Thank You, thank you all, for your endless sacrifice to bring our loved ones home.
    I am righting to you on behalf of Charlie Sturgill (#54030-019), my childhood friend and soul mate at the FBOP in Talladega.
    Charlie was/is a non-violent, good man who made a very foolish choice for an income when he felt his back was against the wall. In 2001-2 he was convicted of 14 years and sentenced to 27 by a crooked GA judge, who later ended up disbarred and in a lot of legal trouble.
    We have consistently gone through the steps it takes to get Charlie back before the court, even now we are awaiting a response from our most recent petition.
    Charlie took immediate action when the opportunity arose to work with one of your lawyers regarding clemency. We are aware that patience is part of the process, however, are you able to say if the cases are on a first come first serve bases? Does it go by region? AND, if an inmate qualifies for the clemency how long until they would be released after the decision is made?
    Thank you once again for your compassion and repeated efforts to make a difference in the lives of so many.
    You all bring us hope.
    Blessings, Cherl

    Reply
  14. Sandra Casso

    Hi Kate, my son’s Giovanni Martinez #04853-063, is complicated because his Public Defender lied to us from the get go. We didn’t find out until after the sentencing of 15 years and 8 months. 3 oz of cocaine and an unarmed gun in the trunk of the car. After he was charged with possession of cocaine, 5 months later after the plead deal and my son signing ALL his rights away, they came back and said the cocaine was sent back to the lab and came back as crack. I couldn’t get it retested through a private lab because they said my son signed his rights away and not even an attorney can have access to it. My son had a 3 months old baby, I begged Judge White to put him on probation for life, that man had no mercy. I told him that the Public Defender even lied about me and to me in my face. I have emails to proof it. He was not interested. He’s been in prison for 5 years, me? Heart attack, quadruple bypass, 2 additional heart attacks, from stress? Anger? Helplessness? That poor uneducated people have no rights because we cannot afford a great attorney. I might not be around by the time my son gets out. My health gets worse every day. I know God has the last word, but I feel that your email wasn’t sent to me by chance. This is the Lord giving me hope. I just need for someone to please take a look at his case. They changed his status to a career criminal, sentence him under crack substance, but never changed his charges. They just did an amendment. I’m disabled, alone, uneducated and broke, so God put you in my path as an answer to my prayers.

    Thanking you in advance,
    Sandra Casso
    978-494-3267
    May God bless and guide you.

    Reply
  15. Mayra

    Hello,

    I see that the last comment was posted in the month of August. Has there been any new updates about the program. My dad, who is currently in CCA submitted the survey, this was a few months ago and he has yet to hear back from the Clemency Project. I have been reading the previous comments, and I see that a letter will be sent out to inmates who qualify and those who don’t; however, I would like to know if there is any other way to find out the status of our loved ones surveys (my dad). He as well as my entire family is very anxious to hear back and the wait is excruciating for us all. Is there anything that us family members can do or is there a place we can call so that we may get status updates?

    Please advise.

    Thank you,
    Mayra

    Reply
  16. Kelly

    Hello. Still anxiously awaiting a contact from an attorney processing clemency applications. Is anyone aware of the status of that process?

    Thanks
    Kelly

    Reply
  17. Tracy

    my family member filled out the survey as did others. the facility where he is located is now releasing inmates. he is due to be released in about 4-5 months anyway. we were hoping this would get him home sooner. like others, he has not heard anything but we remain hopeful!

    Reply
  18. Gloria

    Can I print out the survey for my loved one and send it to them if they have no computer access?
    If they requested that I fill the survey out for them is that ok as long as I have their info?
    Is there a survey that can be filled out online and e mailed back?
    Thank you
    Gloria

    Reply
    • Lani Prunès

      Hello! The survey was sent to prisoners through a specific online program, and at this point they are no longer taking any more. Please know that the information gathered by them will be used to further sentencing reform, to represent the desires of prisoners and their families, and to make their voices heard. Thanks for being so willing to help!

      Reply
  19. Lauren jimoh

    Hello,
    My husband is currently serving time in a FBOP Arizona prison. He received his letter stating that his case has been sent to a public defender. In wanted to know once it his this stage what should we expect? He is excited and thinks he may get out this year, im thinking it is going to be another year or so, but I just want to give him some clarity and see if it is anything I can do to speed up the process.

    Reply
  20. willa

    My son submitted the survey in July, 2014 and he have not received any communication from the clemency project. He would like to submit an Petition for commutation of sentence on his own, should he do it himself or wait to see if he receive communication…

    Thank You

    Reply
  21. Carla Jackson

    Hello FAMM, I am a big fan of FAMM and have donated to your organization. My husband is in Texarkana, TX serving a 22 yr 10 mth sentence. I have wrote to you before in behalf of my husband telling you the story of what happened, but unfortunately you never wrote back. I know you are all very busy at all times and I understand that. I am asking for your help on trying to find out who or where the commutation that he filed last year? He heard back from them in November of 2014 asking information on him and on myself, which he filled out and sent back to them. We are trying to find out who has the paper work on him now and where it is? Hoping you can answer me back with something. Thank you so much for all the work and efforts you all have put out for helping the prisoners who have needed it and for all those that got way to much time for the crime, as like my husband. You are a inspiration to me as I read your work and efforts everyday. Thanks Carla

    Reply
  22. G.Peebles

    The above emails are dated 2014 – has there been any action on this Clemency Project since its inception? My son is currently in Federal Prison Camp but to my knowledge, he has never received the survey. What is proper title and how can it be obtained? He has served half of a 70 month sentence – it is his first offence, he is non violent and there were no fines or restitution required and he is not, nor has he ever been involved in a gang. Any comment would be most appreciated. Thank you in advance for your consideration in this matter.

    Reply
  23. Sandra

    Who do I write to for “Clemency” for my brother who is in Arizona Correctional Facility?

    Reply
  24. Ashley Redd

    Hello,
    my husband received his letter from a Federal Attorney (nov 2015)- spoke with his laywer 3 days later and he was told that his paperwork had been signed by the Attorney and they are now waiting on the approval of their recommendation.

    **HOW LONG DOES THIS USUALLY TAKE???** WE HAVE HOPE HE WILL BE HOME THIS YEAR- ITS BEEN 14 YEARS AND 9 MONTHS!!

    THANKS,
    ASHLEY

    Reply
  25. Pat Nardolillo

    My husband has been in federal prison for 10 years, he is know in a camp. He filled out all the paperwork and received a letter asking him to sign release forms so they could get info from his sentencing judge. It has been almost 1 year and he hasn’t heard anything, should I write a letter to my Senator’s or the sentencing judge myself to see if I can get any information?

    Reply
  26. Tihelia Hunter

    My fiance just received a letter from the Clemency Project last Tuesday staying he qualifies for the clemency and also providing him with the lawyer’s information that was assigned to his case. He’s been incarcerated for 8 years with no write ups during his entire 8 years and only has one felony conviction which qualified him to get the 851 enhancement. Does this mean he will actually get the relief and if so how long does this process takes?

    Thank you in advance,
    Tihelia Hunter.

    Reply
  27. Kathy Gapac

    A friend of mine which is now my fiance has been in Federal Prison since 2004, he filed for Clemency several years ago and never heard a word back from anyone. His charge was drug trafficing. From 2004 to current. Thats an unbearable sentence!! Not to mention his release date is Dec 2017.. He now has to fill out another Clemency form from their prison computer. Come on, has’nt he served enough already. There is murderes, rapist, child molesters out there who has’nt served this much time. Please help with some sorts of advice… Sincerely, Kathy

    Reply
  28. Vickie Shubart

    My son is in La Tuna prison in Texas and has not received anything concerning this survery. He has medical conditions that make him meet the all the rules for being released. He has filed BP 9, 10. It seems the Warden does not award anyone to be released. How can we get any help with this? Willing to try anything. Thank you

    Reply
  29. Patricia Nardolillo

    My husband sent all the necessary paperwork in some time ago. He received a letter asking his permission to review his PSR, he sent the paperwork back and has not heard anything since. Several of his fellow inmates have been released or received an attorney to work with them. My husband is trying to be patient and so am I but we are loosing hope. Can someone check into this and see if he needs to do anything else. Thank you for your time and help.

    Reply
  30. Annette Creel

    How can I find out if my son as or can fill those forms out for early release? He is in a federal prison in Mississippi (Yazoo city) & was sentenced in 2012 with a out date of 2023 for a felony caught with a gun! He has 2 little girls that need him home & a father who is not in good health. Me as his mother needs him at home and don’t feel his crime was not bad enough to receive the sentence that he got. I think the space he is using could be used by someone with a more violent crime such as murder, rapist etc. Please help me bring my son home to have a few years with his unhealthy father not to mention missing the best part of his children lifes. One last thing my son has had GOOD BEHAVIOR the whole time so far which is a plus for him I think!! PLEASE PLEASE HELP A BROKEN HEARTED MOTHER!! I WILL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES & WILL NOT STOP TIL MY SON IS HOME-MY SON BEING (Jacob Creel-25177045) THANK-YOU THANK-YOU for your help!!

    Reply
  31. Tiamikia Brown

    Hi I think this is great for people to get a second chance…my friend did survey and receive a Pro Bono lawyer and his info is on the Harsh Justice page along with alot of other inmates 6 has already been released so do this means he will be released also??? Thanks

    Reply
    • Tiamikia Brown

      He also been removed from a high to a medium prison for good behavior

      Reply
  32. Amburs Burney

    I’m trying to hire a lawyer for my brother could you point me in the direction of attorney that has helped someone already

    Reply
  33. Chasiti

    Is there anyone that i can speak to about this!! My husband has filled out his paperwork nd sent it back its goin on a year nd he still has not heard anything, how does he know if they have received his paper work!

    Reply

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