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Clinic clients await clemency decision

President Obama's federal clemency initiative may not last after January 20.

Three clients of the  Clinical Law Program at the WVU College of Law are waiting to hear if they will be granted clemency by President Barack Obama before he leaves office on January 20.

The president has granted clemency to more than 1,000 non-violent, low-level drug offenders, including three clients of the Clinical Law Program who were released earlier this year.

However, three remaining clients of the law clinic are still waiting review by the Office of the Pardon Attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. The cases are being handled by student lawyers with faculty supervision.

Inmates Bryant Cook, Andre Scales, and Nathaniel Law meet the federal clemency criteria, according to  Valena Beety, associate professor of law.

“They are non-violent drug offenders who have proven they can successfully reintegrate into society,” she said.

Their fate under the Trump Administration is unknown. With the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for U.S. Attorney General, President-elect Donald Trump has hinted that the federal clemency program will come to an end. Sessions is opposed to President Obama’s handling of the criminal justice system, according the New York Times. 

“It’s terribly sad to be so close to freedom only to have the clock run out on you when the White House changes hands,” said Beety, who directs the  West Virginia Innocence Project. “We’re hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.”

The purpose of the federal clemency program is to restore faith in the justice system and to reduce costs of needlessly incarcerating non-violent offenders.

In addition to non-violent, successful applicants for clemency must be federal prisoners who have served for 10 years, would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today and have demonstrated good conduct in prison. Also, they must not have ties to large-scale criminal organizations or a significant criminal history.

The WVU Clinical Law Program is part of Clemency Project 2014, a national group of lawyers and advocates who work pro bono to screen federal prisoners for clemency consideration.


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