News Release

President Obama Surprises with Rare Exercise of Clemency Power

Washington, DC (December 19, 2013) – Today, the White House announced that President Barack Obama granted clemency to 21 individuals – eight commutations and thirteen pardons. For some time, President Obama has come under blistering criticism for his neglect of executive clemency power. Indeed, many have pointed out that previous presidents exercised this power more frequently and at a higher rate than has President Obama. Unfortunately, never before has the need to invoke this power to do justice been greater. More people languish behind bars in America than any other nation on earth, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population, many of them for non-violent offenses and under the most severe of mandatory minimum schemes.

NACDL President Jerry J. Cox said: “As we learn more and more about the pervasive racial and ethnic disparities that plague America’s criminal justice system, and as we witness every day how those accused of crime are pressured to plead guilty given both the high cost of exercising their Constitutional right to trial and the leverage afforded prosecutors by outrageous mandatory minimum sentences, many in America are coming to see a criminal justice system that is broken in so many critical respects. While we applaud President Obama sticking his toe in the waters of clemency, we hope that this is just the beginning. There are sound reasons why American presidents and governors were long ago vested with these powers. The facts on the ground today reveal that they may never have been more necessary than now in order to right many injustices and excessive sentences being meted out by today’s American criminal justice system.”

NACDL is working diligently to shine the light on the crisis in America’s criminal justice system. As part of its significant efforts to reform a criminal justice system in crisis, NACDL launched a Task Force on the Restoration of Rights and Status After Conviction that has been conducting hearings across the nation and which will be issuing a major report in early 2014. In addition, not too long ago, NACDL launched the Restoration of Rights Project -- a collection of individual downloadable documents that profile the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to relief from the collateral consequences of conviction, available at And earlier this year, NACDL launched another online resource – NACDL’s Excessive Sentencing Project -- a collection of individual downloadable documents that summarize for each U.S. state the key doctrines and leading court rulings setting forth constitutional and statutory limits on lengthy imprisonment terms and other extreme (non-capital) sentences, available at

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Ivan Dominguez, Director of Public Affairs and Communications (202) 465-7662 or

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 legal system.