Monday, March 14, 2016

Reuters: Clemency Application Disaster

Reuters is running a story entitled, "Obama's Prisoner Clemency Plan Faltering as Cases Pile Up." It credits the Obama administration for coming up with the "most ambitious" and "legacy-defining" clemency program in 40 years," because it has invited "thousands of jailed drug offenders and other convicts to seek early release and urging lawyers across the country to take on their cases." The Obama administration was already receiving record numbers of applications for commutation of sentence - before the invitation. The new angle was the attempt to attach a lawyer to every application (most successful clemency applicants do not have the assistance of a lawyer).

Reuters reports that "more than 8,000 cases out of more than 44,000 federal inmates who applied have yet to make it to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for review. In addition, there are "about 9,000 cases that are still pending at the DOJ."

Now, a "senior DOJ official" says the DOJ "is calling on the lawyers' group -- Clemency Project 2014 -- to simply hand over the outstanding cases without further vetting, saying it is not working fast enough." A project manager for CP 14 says she is unaware of any such request. To date, the group has forwarded about 200 applications.

Reuters reports:
Clemency Project 2014 said it does not comment publicly on the individuals it represents. The group vets the applications, writes the petitions and sends them to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, which oversees all pardons and sentence commutations and makes recommendations for the president's approval. So far, 25,000 of 34,000 applications received by Clemency Project have been rejected for failing to meet the basic criteria - no record of violence, no significant ties to a gang or drug cartel, good behavior in prison and completion of at least 10 years of sentence. About 10,000 inmates did not go through the Clemency Project and either applied directly to DOJ or through a paid attorney. "It really would be a sad state of affairs if individuals who had asked for a lawyer weren't considered in time because their petitions never reached the pardon attorney's office," a DOJ official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity. A large number of mostly unqualified applications, a shortage of lawyers and the complexity of the cases have slowed progress, said Cynthia Roseberry, project manager for Clemency Project 2014. "There are a lot of gray areas," said Roseberry, who estimates it takes 30 days for one lawyer to review one case on average. "We've got to unpack each of these applicants to see specifically what factors affect them... and so that takes a little more time." This includes finding pre-sentencing reports for each case, determining if the person would have received a shorter sentence under current law and reviewing prison behavior records. 
CP 14 involves "more than 570 law firms and 30 law schools contributing to the effort."  See full story here.

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