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.Responding to:  The Man Who Ran Obama’s Clemency Machine

by: Maurice Chammah


                     This is our Response to the above interview published by the Marshall Project

Neil Eggleston’s comments about Clemency Project 2014 shed some light on the reason for the ultimate failure and collapse of this Obama initiative for criminal justice reform. 

For the first five years of Obama’s presidency the federal prison population grew by 19,000 incarcerated people.  In 2013, the population was over 219,000, the highest incarceration rate in history.

Criminal justice organizations, prisoner advocacy groups, criminal defense attorneys, law school clinics, prisoner’s families and various other lobbying groups started the drum beat for sentencing reform and an initiative of Presidential Clemency.  Finally in 2013 Eric Holder announced that there would be a clemency initiative that could mean 10,000 or more acts of mercy for incarcerated people who would not be a threat if they were released.  


Those of us with incarcerated loved ones who had sentences that would assure that they would die behind bars now had a reason for hope.  We felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to the President and all who were involved in the decision and the process that would lead to our loved ones freedom.  We could hope to have our family member in our daily lives again.  The hope was an ache, but we knew this President had compassion.  It was not to be. 

The lack of commitment became apparent almost immediately.  I have the web site Life for Pot and the nonviolent marijuana offenders that I advocate for waited patiently for their evaluation by cp-14.  Surprisingly some were rejected, and others accepted to the project and were told they would be assigned an attorney.  Those fortunate inmates who were assigned an attorney would sometimes just receive a notification that they were represented and hear nothing more.  We urged them to submit their own and wait.

This is not just a passing interest for me.  I have a 69 year old brother, John Knock, who has two life sentences for a nonviolent marijuana conspiracy.  He has been incarcerated for 20 years and never had an infraction.  His prison resume is impeccable.  He is a first time offender.  On January 18, his clemency petition was denied by President Obama.

These are the numbers that tell you about the mercy and compassion of the Clemency Initiative.  The promise was 10,000 or more.


1,715 Commutations granted – we could only find 39 for nonviolent marijuana only offenders.  The rest were denied or left pending.
Over 18,000 petitions for commutation were denied
Over 4,000 petitions for commutation we closed without action
Over 8,000 petitions for commutation were left pending in the Pardon Attorney’s office for the next administration.


I must reject Mr. Eggleston’s assertion that he had better information and insight than the attorneys, advocates, or families about who was a good candidate for release.  He asserts that he and President Obama looked over all the applicants and rejected all but 1,715. 

Apparently Mr. Eggleston and President Obama based their denials on secret information. That implies that all the nonviolent marijuana offenders that I know who were denied should remain in prison till they die because Mr. Eggleston and President Obama have special information unknown to anyone else?  What are the secrets that gave them confidence to make this Sophie’s Choice?  They missed the point of Clemency.  It is not a legal process but a Constitutional Power given to the President to be compassionate and merciful.  In this endeavor they failed miserably. 

These assertions made by Mr. Eggleston have tainted the character and behavior of all they left behind.  I can only believe this was done in order to burnish the administrations legacy of compassion at the expense of those they left behind without hope. 

There is one secret that most of us know that the White House and the Pardon Attorney did not address.  That secret is that most nonviolent offenders who receive sentences of life without parole were charged with conspiracy and went to trial.  A conspiracy charge does not require definitive evidence, but only the testimony of those testifying for a plea or for part of the forfeiture.  If you exercise your sixth amendment right
to trial you receive the trial penalty.  This charge allows the Prosecutor to tell the story.


In the spring of 2016 at a White House Briefing, it was obvious to many of us that the promise of clemency was waning and The Administration was pivoting to reentry as the major emphasis for time and money. 

The White House would not pay attention to any effort to expedite the clemency project by granting clemency to categories of inmates.  Many individuals and groups implored them to take this approach so that they would not fail the thousands who placed their trust in their concept of mercy.  The White House and Justice Department did not seem to even understand the concept as it had been used in the past.  Heals were dug in, and fates were sealed. 

This is the model the White House was asked to adopt.
Clemency Initiative enacted by Gerald Ford the Viet Nam War.

It was an act of compassion and mercy that resulted in over 14,000 Petitions for Clemency granted by President Ford.   Neil Eggleston and President Obama did not want to adopt this highly successful model. 


The Executive Order
By virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States by Section 2 of Article II of the Constitution of the United States, and in the interest of the internal management of the Government, it is ordered as follows:

SECTION 1. There is hereby established in the Executive Office of the President a board of 9 members, which shall be known as the Presidential Clemency Board. The members of the Board shall be appointed by the President, who shall also designate its Chairman.

NOTE: The White House announced the appointment of the following persons as members of the Presidential Clemency Board:


DR. RALPH ADAMS, 59, educator, has been president of Troy State University in Troy, Ala., for 10 years. He is a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College with LL.B. and J.D. degrees from the University of Alabama, and a brigadier general, Air National Guard of Alabama.

JAMES P. DOUGOVITA, 28, is a full-time teaching aide of minority students in the department of applied technology, Michigan Technological University. Mr. Dougovita is a veteran and has been awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and is now a captain in the Michigan National Guard.

ROBERT H. FINCH, 51, is a lawyer and partner in the firm of McKenna, Fitting & Finch in Los Angeles, Calif. He was formerly Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and Counsellor to President Nixon.

CHARLES E. GOODELL, 48-Chairman-is a former Senator from New York who is currently in the private practice of law. He was a Ford Foundation Fellow at Yale and was a graduate of Williams College.

REV. THEODORE M. HESBURGH, 57, is president, University of Notre Dame, and holds honorary degrees from numerous colleges and universities. He is a permanent Vatican delegate. He has served as Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and as a member of the Committee on an All-Volunteer Armed Force.

VERNON E. JORDAN, 39, is executive director of the National Urban League, an organization concerned with the advancement of the minority groups. Mr. Jordan is a lawyer by profession and served previously as the executive director of the United Negro College Fund, director of the voter education project, Southern Regional Council, and as Attorney-Consultant in the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity.

JAMES MAVE, 31, is executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Bridgewater College, Bridgewater, Va., and received his master's degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.

AIDA CASANAS O'CONNOR, 52, is a woman lawyer with a master of laws degree from George Washington University, Washington, D.C. She is a member of the Bar of the State of New York, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico, and the Supreme Court of the United States. Presently she is assistant counsel to the New York State division of housing and community renewal in New York City.

GEN. LEWIS W. WALT, USMC (Ret.), 61, retired after 34 years in the Marine Corps and is a veteran of the Second World War, the Korean and Vietnamese wars. He was an Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. He has received the Navy Cross, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, and numerous other military decorations.

Citation: Gerald R. Ford: "Executive Order 11803—Establishing a Clemency Board to Review Certain Convictions of Persons Under Section 12 or 6 (j) of the Military Selective Service Act and Certain Discharges Issued Because of, and Certain Convictions for, Violations of Article 85, 86, or 87 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and to Make Recommendations for Executive Clemency with Respect Thereto," September 16, 1974. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=23895.

The result of this Clemency Initiative under President Ford resulted in over 14,000 Clemency Petitions being granted.  The Obama Administration was unresponsive and our hopes were dashed.  Nonviolent marijuana offenders with life without parole or defacto life without parole would be a natural category for sentencing relief or clemency by category.  There was no interest in pursuing a plan that would give freedom to the tens of thousands of inmates, families, friends and advocates, who thought they were given the promise of compassion.  Indeed, Mr. Eggleston takes it one step further and declares that they had some special knowledge that made whole categories unworthy.  This is not a legacy of mercy or compassion and fiscal responsibility







Commutation

Executive Clemency