Frequently Asked Questions About Clemency Project 2014

Post Date: August 29, 2014

1.  What is Clemency Project 2014?

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. 

 2.  How does a prisoner apply?

The Federal Bureau of Prisons sent all federal prisoners an announcement about the initiative, a list of the criteria, and an announcement about Clemency Project 2014. The message invited federal prisoners to fill out a survey if they thought they met the criteria and were interested in seeking a commutation. The survey asked prisoners for basic information and also asked if the prisoner wished to have a lawyer assigned to represent them free of charge. Most federal prisoners received the announcement and survey through Trulinks; others, such as those in state and private facilities should have received a paper survey. Clemency Project 2014 has received over 20,000 surveys from prisoners who asked for their help.

3. I am not sure I meet the criteria. Should I fill out the survey?

Yes, please do. We will figure out whether you meet the criteria. If you are unsure whether you meet the criteria fill the survey out. Volunteer lawyers from Clemency Project 2014 will figure out if you meet the criteria.

4. I heard the survey has been taken down.

No, the survey is still open and prisoners may still fill the survey out.     

5.  I’ve been moved since I filled out the survey. Will Clemency Project 2014 be able to find me if I’ve gone?

Yes. When you move to another prison, the information is updated on the BOP website. The lawyer screening your case will use that to find you.

6.  What about a prisoner who has already applied for a commutation and is waiting for a reply. Does s/he need to reapply?

Not necessarily. That will be determined on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, a prisoner may want to reapply or supplement their petition to show how their case fits the criteria the Deputy Attorney General announced. A prisoner who is not already working with a lawyer can ask for a lawyer to help them free of cost by filling out the survey the Bureau of Prisons provided. If the prisoner asks for legal help, skilled and trained volunteer attorneys from the Clemency Project 2014 will screen the case. If it appears to meet the criteria, a volunteer lawyer from the Clemency Project 2014 (perhaps the same lawyer who screened the case) will work with the prisoner to redraft or supplement the current petition.

7.   What about a prisoner who has applied for a commutation but has been denied. Can s/he apply?

 Yes. In some cases, a prisoner may want to reapply and show how his or her case fits the criteria the Deputy Attorney General announced. A prisoner can ask for a lawyer to help free of cost by filling out the survey the Bureau of Prisons sent. If the prisoner asks for legal help, skilled and trained volunteer attorneys from the Clemency Project 2014 will screen the case. If it appears to meet the criteria, a volunteer lawyer from the Clemency Project 2014 (perhaps the same lawyer who screened the case) will work with the prisoner to draft or redraft the petition and reapply.

 8.   How does a prisoner get a pro bono lawyer?

The Bureau of Prisons sent an announcement about the criteria. It invited those prisoners to fill out a survey if they believe they meet the criteria and would like to ask for the help of a lawyer to assist them free of cost with clemency. Clemency Project 2014  began to provide the survey results to lawyers working with Clemency Project 2014 in September.

 These volunteer lawyers will review the survey results and contact prisoners to get more information. That lawyer will write to the prisoner for permission to review documents in his or her case to determine if the other criteria are met and if so, how the sentence would differ. If the criteria are met, the prisoner will be assigned a lawyer to help them fill out and file a clemency petition. That might be the same lawyer who wrote to the prisoner for permission to review their documents or it might be a new one.

9.  I heard from someone who said they work with Clemency Project 2014 and asked me for money/told me I had to pay a fee to move my survey to the front of the line. 

Clemency Project 2014 lawyers will not charge prisoners one penny for this work. If you hear from a lawyer who claims to work with Clemency Project 2014 and asks you or your family for money, they are not working with the Clemency Project 2014. Please let us know if this happens to you.

10.  I filled out the TruLinks survey MONTHS ago and I’ve heard nothing. Is anyone out there?

Yes. We told you to be patient and we know your patience is being tried. Clemency Project 2014 has been building a sophisticated tracking system on the computer to be sure no one is lost, everyone is assigned an attorney and everyone is communicated with. We had to develop comprehensive training materials, develop rules for screening cases, coordinate information sharing with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, train hundreds of lawyers, and be sure that the information the prisoner sent the Project is complete and if not, fill in the gaps.

Clemency Project 2014  began assigning attorneys in September and everyone will begin hearing from their attorney or the Project. We have many more prisoner surveys than trained lawyers at the moment, so you may not hear back right away even though we have begun assigning cases. We are stepping up attorney recruitment now to meet the demand.

11.   I filled out the TruLinks survey and said I wanted a lawyer from Clemency Project 2014 to help me with my commutation. But then I received a letter from the Federal Public Defender telling me they were representing me and asking me to sign a release of information for information.

Federal Defenders are working in and with Clemency Project 2014; this is a joint effort.

12.   I heard the Federal Public Defenders have been forbidden to represent prisoners for clemency but I one received a letter from them telling me they are taking my case and asking for information.

The Federal Defenders are working hand in hand as full partners in Clemency Project 2014. It is true that a legal opinion was issued that affects the extent of their involvement. But each Federal Public Defender is assessing how much they can do. Here are the many ways the Federal Public Defenders are supporting Clemency Project 2014.

  • Judges have appointed Federal Defenders to represent clients in clemency in a few special situations. In those instances, they review a prisoner’s case to determine if the prisoner meets the criteria, draft the petition, and send it to Clemency Project 2014 for submission to the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
  • In other cases, the federal defender will gather records and screen the case for clemency eligibility to assist the pro bono lawyer assigned by Clemency Project 2014.
  • A number of Federal Public Defenders are volunteering with the Clemency Project 2014 nationally. They prepared the training materials, and will serve administratively in screening, resource, and steering committees, providing invaluable support, skill and guidance.

It is true that in some districts, the federal public defenders may not be able to play any role but in all cases — in large measure because of the support from the Federal Public Defenders — a prisoner who wrote to Clemency Project 2014 will have a trained, skilled lawyer reviewing the case to determine if they meet the criteria and if so, putting together the petition.

13.  I heard the Federal Public Defenders can’t be a part of Clemency Project 2014 and we will need to hire a private lawyer because the Project will not be able to function without them. Is this true?

No.   Don’t believe those rumors; they aren’t true. The Federal Public Defenders remain full partners in Clemency Project 2014, providing training, serving as experts and resource counsel to help our volunteer lawyers and serving on key committees, including our governing Steering Committee. Many federal public defenders will be assisting with individual cases. Moreover, 1,000 private lawyers have volunteered to screen and represent individuals for clemency. Hundreds of them have been trained and are waiting for us to send them the surveys.

14.  I filled out the TruLinks survey and want to change an answer. But I cannot get back into the survey. Will Clemency Project 2014 get my survey even though I did not complete it?

Yes. If you asked for a lawyer from Clemency Project 2014 to assist you the BOP sent your survey to Clemency Project 2014. Don’t worry if you failed to answer all the questions or your answers were incorrect. There will be a chance to fill them out fully and correctly when the lawyer contacts you.

15. How can I change/correct my survey answer?

If you asked for a lawyer to assist you, you will be contacted by a lawyer from Clemency Project 2014. Then you will be able to provide the new/corrected information.

16.  I do not have access to TruLinks (I am serving my federal sentence in a state or private facility). I did not get a copy of the survey. What should I do?

Ask the staff at your facility to provide you a copy of the survey. If you do not receive one please let us know.

17.  I filled out a paper survey but have not heard back. Are they being looked at as well?

Yes, but because all the paper surveys have to be checked to be sure they are not duplicates of Trulinks surveys and then have to be entered into our database manually, they will take longer to be looked at and assigned.

18. Can you tell me if Clemency Project 2014 received my survey?

We regret we cannot. 

18.  I heard that prison staff are going through our surveys and/or filling out surveys for prisoners. Is that true?

No one but the prisoner can fill out a survey. Only the Office of the Pardon Attorney or Clemency Project 2014 can look at survey responses.

19.  I am a lawyer, how do I volunteer? 

Visit the Clemency Project 2014 website at https://www.clemencyproject2014.org/volunteers/intro.

20.  I am a family member. How can I help my loved one?

Visit the Clemency Project website at https://www.clemencyproject2014.org/families/intro.