The President of the United States has the power to grant commutations (sometimes also called “clemency” or a “grant of clemency”) to federal prisoners. If granted, a commutation reduces a federal prisoner’s sentence, but does not restore any other rights (for example, the right to vote or own guns). Until the 1980s, commutations were granted regularly, but in recent decades, commutations have been very rarely granted. Yet they are more essential than ever before. Because Congress abolished parole for federal prisoners and strictly limited their appeal rights, a presidential commutation is one of the only ways for a person to receive relief from an excessive sentence. President Obama has granted 562 commutations, including some FAMM members, and 70 pardons.
Recently, the Department of Justice announced a new clemency initiative to expand the use of commutations to deserving federal prisoners. They put together a list of new criteria that will help the Justice Department identify federal prisoners who, if sentenced today, would likely have received substantially lower sentenced. To meet the new criteria, prisoners must:
The Justice Department also welcomed a new Pardon Attorney, Deborah Leff, on April 30, 2014. FAMM is encouraged by this much-needed change and has joined with other advocates and volunteer attorneys to form Clemency Project 2014. Clemency Project members will collaborate to recruit and train attorneys on how to screen for prisoners who meet the criteria and provide free legal help in preparing a commutation petition to those prisoners who meet the criteria. Lawyers interested in volunteering for the project should write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
While Clemency Project 2014 will focus on those cases that clearly fit the new criteria, there are many other federal prisoners whose sentences are grossly disproportionate to the crimes for which they were convicted. We will continue to urge the Department of Justice and President Obama to vastly expand use of the clemency power to correct widespread injustice. We also continue to advocate for legislative reforms to curtail sentencing laws that continue to cause unjust sentences.
If you think a loved one may benefit, or want to learn more about the new clemency initiative people read our Answers to your Frequently Asked Questions about the New Clemency Initiative.
Federal prisoners who do NOT meet the criteria can still apply for a sentence commutation. Read these Frequently Asked Questions about Commutations and Pardons and Suggestions for Filing a Federal Commutation Petition. Then visit the Office of the Pardon Attorney website for application forms and more information.