Washington, DC (April 22, 2014) -- On January 30, 2014, the United States Department of Justice announced an ambitious program to provide clemency for certain federal inmates serving long sentences for certain non-violent crimes. In a speech delivered on that day, Deputy Attorney General James Cole called upon the nation's bar to assist potential candidates in assembling effective, appropriate and focused commutation petitions for consideration by the Department of Justice and President Obama. And yesterday, Attorney General Holder announced:
"Later this week, the deputy attorney general will announce new criteria that the department will consider when recommending applications for the President’s review. This new and improved approach will make the criteria for clemency recommendation more expansive. This will allow the Department of Justice and the president to consider requests from a larger field of eligible individuals. Once these reforms go into effect, we expect to receive thousands of additional applications for clemency. And we at the Department of Justice will meet this need by assigning potentially dozens of lawyers – with backgrounds in both prosecution and defense – to review applications and provide the rigorous scrutiny that all clemency applications require."
In essence, the program is expected to focus on those people whose sentences would likely be lower if they were sentenced under current sentencing laws or policies. Since the first announcement of this initiative in early 2014, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has participated with a number of groups who have long sought sentencing reform to implement Clemency Project 2014, a joint project under which a number of groups will independently participate in recruiting volunteer lawyers to assist inmates seeking clemency and to provide training and logistical support for those lawyers. The goal of the project is to ensure that every inmate who may qualify for relief has access to counsel who can provide high quality representation in preparing the most effective petition possible in the light of the criteria to be articulated by the Justice Department.
NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer, in a letter today to the Association’s approximately 10,000 members, writes: "The nation's criminal defense bar has a long tradition of rising to whatever challenges the legal system inflicts upon the accused. Now we have the challenge - and the hope - of restoring freedom to the condemned. I call upon NACDL members to consider volunteering to participate in this important and historic project."
"This project is an historic opportunity to begin the process of remedying decades of cruel and unnecessarily harsh sentencing practices. Even when implemented, this corrective process is partial and insufficient. In the long term, meaningful reform will require legislative action and an entirely new approach to non-violent offenders. That is the only path toward ending this country's infatuation with mass incarceration. But, for many this program offers genuine hope and the prospect of an early return to freedom," Reimer also wrote.
Attorneys interested in volunteering for this project should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org providing contact information. And within the next few weeks, as the project is rolled out, volunteers will be contacted and invited to participate in a training webinar.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.