Thousands of Federal Inmates May Have Sentence Reductions Delayed

April V. Taylor

Just six months after the Justice Department put out a call for defense attorneys to help identify and qualify federal inmates who would have been eligible for lesser sentences under newer sentencing guidelines, the DOJ is now saying those attorneys may not be qualified to help with the effort.  The call was put out as part of Clemency Project 2014, which is a coalition of defense attorneys and advocates who represent a significant portion of the inmates seeking sentence reductions.

Bipartisan efforts have helped reduce harsh sentencing guidelines, but thousands of federal inmates who were sentenced prior to those reforms are still serving long sentences due to the guidelines not being applied retroactively.  In an effort to address the unfairness of this issue and reduce the financial strain of an excessive federal inmate population, the Justice Department reached out to organizations such as the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums and federal defenders to develop criteria and processes to allow certain federal inmates to apply for sentence reductions.

Part of what emerged from the collaboration was the defense bar being assigned with the task of identifying federal inmates who qualify for sentence reductions, recruiting and training attorneys willing to assist with cases on a pro bono basis, and preparing and vetting petitions to be submitted to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney.  However, there are now concerns that some of the attorneys being trained through the Clemency Project may not be able to adequately evaluate and represent some of the complex cases being reviewed.  There is also a question of whether or not federal defenders are statutorily authorized to participate in the clemency effort.

Mark Osler, who is the director of the Federal Commutations Clinic at the University of St. Thomas, has been helping train attorneys through the Clemency Project.  Osler recently stated to Al Jazeera America that, “Federal defenders include some of the best courtroom and appellate advocates in the United States.  Having them work with the Clemency Project 2014 has been important to the work we are doing.  Losing them as a part of the coalition would be a significant challenge.”  While the DOJ is questioning whether federal defenders are qualified to assist inmates seeking sentence reductions, the fact that federal defenders are responsible for handling around 60 percent of the cases prosecuted in federal courts speaks to the fact that these attorneys have the experience and knowledge necessary to navigate federal cases.  There are now some 20,000 federal inmates who have requested that their cases be reviewed by the Clemency Project, and they are now being forced to wait for authorities to determine if attorneys who are volunteering their services are allowed to and able to help them fight for reductions in their sentences.



6 Comment

  1. Wow so let me understand this… never mind its always a trick anyway.

  2. When ever there is policy involved to bring some kind of concession for black offenders it's usually held up or the towel gets thrown in. Why would this happen when the same public defenders who sent most of these folks to jail cannot be deemed as responsible or capable enough to render some type of defense to get them released. That sounds racist as well as violation to their constitutional rights to due process. If they had more attention brought to this action perhaps there will be more done to assist the federal inmates cause.

  3. Give them the same attention brought to the people in Iran who are in the news front page headlines or is it our causes never make front page are put on the back burner for review. This is not fair or is it justice once again people of color are given the shaft!

  4. I have a certain amount of compassion for all those incarcerated beyond what is considered a fair sentence for their crimes; however, they are criminals and deserved to be punished (excluding those falsely accused). The thing I have a problem with is the overall thinking of African-Americans who feel somehow that most Black people in prison shouldn't be there. We have a system of justice to punish people who break the law and do harm to others and the saddest thing in all of this is that when these people are sentenced (and in most cases even before) their victim(s) are/is forgotten. We want all kind of concessions for the criminals but none for the victims. This is just plain backward ass thinking. Ask the victims of these people being talked about in this article and see how they feel. I strongly believe in forgiving but history says that most of these people will end up back in prison and, or never be rehabilitated

  5. Oh my goodness! an incredible write-up dude. Thank you Nonetheless I

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