I’ve always been very proud to be a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (“NACDL”) and never more so than these days when the organization is poised to help process huge numbers of clemency applications for non-violent offenders serving Draconian prison sentences. As the NACDL press release explained:
“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.”
America has more citizens in prison, per capita and in actual numbers, than any other country in the world. Hard to believe, isn’t it? The Obama James Burdickistration’s goal is laudable, but would not be possible without the concurrence of even the most conservative on Congress; not surprisingly, they concur only because the result will be a cost savings to the US Treasury. But, whatever their motivations, hundreds of non-violent offenders will finally see their sentences reduced to what they should have been in the first place.
So, kudos to President Obama, Attorney General Holder, and particularly the NACDL, which has always been in the forefront of protecting the rights and liberty of citizens accused of crimes.