Clemency at the Federal Level
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 usually been very rarely granted. A recent exception was President Barack Obama, who granted 1,715 commutations, including some to FAMM supporters, and 212 pardons. FAMM was one of the founding partners of Clemency Project 2014, a special project that connected thousands of prisoners to pro bono attorneys who helped them apply for commutations. Clemency Project 2014 ended in December 2016. Yet clemency is 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.
FAMM does not know how President Donald Trump will use the pardon power, or whether he will grant commutations.
Clemency at the State Level
FAMM has teamed up with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) with support from the Foundation for Criminal Justice (FCJ), to create the state-focused clemency initiative, the NACDL/FAMM State Clemency Project. The program helps recruit, train, and provide support to pro bono attorneys who assist state prisoners to submit petitions to have their sentences commuted. The Project is working with Gov. Cuomo of New York to develop the necessary processes and procedures to enable volunteer lawyers through the project to help prisoners seeking clemency pursuant to the Governor’s initiative. The Project provides logistical support for the governor’s initiative, among other ways, by recruiting and training volunteer lawyers to help prisoners apply for clemency.
For more, check out this piece from founder and former president Julie Stewart: