Obama grants clemency to 95 prisoners

WASHINGTON — In his first clemency grants since July, President Obama last Friday commuted the sentences of 95 prisoners, 27 of whose petitions were supported by Clemency Project 2014.

"While it is my hope that President Obama will, going forward, increase the use of his clemency power, one can only be happy for each and every of today’s grantees and their loved ones." said Cynthia W. Roseberry, project manager for Clemency Project 2014.

The American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the Federal Public and Community Defenders, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have joined together under a working group they call Clemency Project 2014.

Through the efforts of Clemency Project 2014, the participating organizations are identifying potential clemency petitioners and recruiting and training volunteer lawyers to assist them in securing clemency.

“The ABA applauds the president’s continued and historic use of the executive clemency authority to revisit the sentences imposed on nonviolent offenders that are now recognized to have been excessive and unnecessary,” ABA President Paulette Brown said.  “We thank the many members of the American Bar Association who have risen to the challenge to provide free representation of these deserving clients.”

Clemency Project 2014, an independent effort by the nation’s bar, has recruited and trained nearly 4,000 volunteer lawyers from diverse practice backgrounds and completed screening of more than 25,000 of the more than 33,000 federal prisoners who have requested volunteer assistance.

As of today, Clemency Project 2014 has submitted 263 petitions to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, with approximately 100 more nearing submission.

The balance of the requests are at some stage of the review or drafting process.

Lawyers from more than 70 of the nation's largest and most prestigious law firms, 500 small firms and solo practitioners, 30 law schools and clinics, leading not-for-profit organizations and the criminal defense bar are answering the call made last year by former Deputy Attorney General James Cole before the New York State Bar Association.

Cole announced that the Obama administration would consider commuting the prison sentences of nonviolent offenders who had received severe prison sentences and who would, were they sentenced today, likely have received significantly lower sentences under current sentencing law and policy.

Cole appealed to the legal profession to provide free assistance to help identify eligible prisoners and assist them in the preparation of clemency petitions.

According to the criteria released by the Department of Justice, prisoners must:

• Currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense(s) today

• Be a non-violent, low-level offender without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels

• Have served at least 10 years of their sentence

• Have no have a significant criminal history

• Have demonstrated good conduct in prison

• Have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment