New clemency rules announced; Feds expects many to apply

Mandatory minimum sentencing provisions under federal law have been under scrutiny in recent months. Last week, the Justice Department announced that new rules for clemency are now a reality and people convicted for non-violent federal offenses may qualify for clemency. The new rules do not grant clemency in a blanket fashion, but Obama Administration officials say that many people serving time may now qualify for clemency. The new rules involve an array of criteria; to be eligible for consideration, a person must meet the qualifications.

A threshold requirement for clemency under the rules is that a person must have served at least 10 years for a federal crime. Officials estimate that as many as 23,000 people currently serving time in federal prison have served at least 10 years. Administration officials have not provided an estimate of how many inmates may meet the remaining criteria, but the government is adding staff to review applications in the expectation that the number of people seeking clemency will be high.

To qualify, a person cannot have a “significant criminal history,” according to the Georgia Daily News. In addition, an applicant must not have significant gang ties. The clemency rules are aimed at low-level offenders who were accused of a nonviolent offense. Aligned with the nonviolent aspect of the clemency rules, an applicant should have no history of violence. The government will look to prison conduct, as the rules require that a person have a good record while in custody.

Non-violent offenders convicted of many types of crimes are serving what many commentators and criminal defense lawyers say are unfair. Several years ago, the Fair Sentencing Act sought to address some of the disparity between sentences that apply to crack cocaine and those that apply to powder cocaine. While the new rules have the sentencing disparities related to drug crimes in mind, but the rules do not exclude other types of nonviolent crimes, such as many white collar offenses.

Source: Georgia Daily News, “DOJ announces clemency overhaul,” April 24, 2014