The National Association of Distinguished Counsel is proud to align its membership with Clemency Project 2014, spearheaded by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. We encourage our members to partake in this valuable initiative. For more information and to volunteer, please visit:
There are individuals incarcerated in the federal system that may have their sentences commuted if lawyers volunteer to prepare clemency petitions for them. If lawyers do not volunteer to assist them, they may lose a unique opportunity to get out of prison.
I begin with this stark statement to illustrate how important it is that we get involved in Clemency Project 2014. The window of opportunity is closing to take advantage of President Obama’s clemency initiative. If petitions are not filed for eligible prisoners within the next few months, there will not be enough time for them to be processed by the Justice Department and the administration before President Obama leaves office. There will probably not be another opportunity for individuals eligible for reduction of their sentences under this program to gain relief from the draconian sentences they received under the ill-advised sentencing practices of the past few decades.
I write to personally ask for the assistance of every NACDL member and the entire criminal defense bar. And here is why: for far too many years those of us who have devoted our lives to the defense of the accused have dealt with the tyranny of mandatory minimum sentences and harsh enhancements. We have all stood beside clients whose non-violent transgressions led to extremely draconian prison sentences—effectively snuffing out their futures. In many of these cases, judges themselves lamented the severity of the sentence, but were bound by prosecutorial charging decisions and compulsory sentences.
Fortunately, in recent years there have been changes in the law and charging policies that have relaxed some of the harshest sentencing practices. But, a bizarre feature of our criminal justice system is that many of these changes are not available to those who were sentenced under the old regime. And that is where the Obama Administration’s clemency initiative comes into play. The President’s clemencyinitiative presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for defense lawyers to reverse the ravages of harsh sentencing policies that have ruined the lives of thousands of our clients and their families. There are countless inmates who can benefit from this program, but they need lawyers to help. And they need them now.
Many of you have already volunteered. I have spoken with many of our members who have participated, and with some who have experienced the professional and personal reward of securing a shortened sentence for their clients. We need more help.
You—America’s criminal defense lawyers—are best positioned to provide that assistance. All you need to do is analyze the basis for the sentence to determine if the inmate would have received a lesser sentence under current law and policy. Then, you need to review the inmate’s prior criminal history and prison record to ensure that he or she will meet the various criteria established by the Department of Justice. Clemency Project 2014, which is the term for the infrastructure created to support this pro bono effort, can show you how to do the necessary analysis and can expedite the process by which you obtain the required documents. It is important to note it is not necessary to have federal criminal defense experience to be an effective advocate for these inmates.
I make this appeal at this time because we still have many inmates who have not yet had their cases assigned for review, and time is of the essence. Once a petition is submitted, the review process at the Department of Justice and the White House takes a number of months. Thus, it is critical that petitions on behalf of all eligible inmates be submitted as soon as possible. The worst possible scenario would be if the clock runs out before all of the eligible cases can be reviewed and submitted. The Constitution does not provide for overtime in a presidential term.
All of us who have dedicated our lives to representing the accused well know that ever harsher sentencing laws have led to America’s age of mass incarceration. Even as society finally begins to awaken to the tragedy and waste that resulted from those sentencing practices, defense lawyers still live with the indelible memory of having watched helplessly while so many of our clients’ lives were ruined by cruel prison terms of breathtaking length. This was especially the case with federal drug cases. And those are the kinds of cases most likely to benefit from the clemency initiative.
While I understand the demands of a criminal defense practice, for a few hours of your time, you can help individuals regain years of their lives. I also know that this is a special moment and that criminal defense lawyers understand better than most that the opportunity to restore a person to freedom is an invaluable gift—both for the liberated and liberator.
So, I implore you—each and every one of you as a fellow defense attorney—to please volunteer to assist Clemency Project 2014, and help make history by restoring the liberty of countless condemned. This is truly an opportunity for all of us fulfill our role as “Liberty’s Last Champions.”
Please click here or use the link below to join this effort.
E. G. Morris
P.S.: Please note that CJA panel members are not required to participate in the clemencytraining program. Other volunteers can access a training program on the clemency website now.