Saturday, January 28, 2017


The sad truth

As many of you know, Rachel Barkow and I set up a pop-up law firm, the Clemency Resource Center, to represent worthy clients seeking clemency, at no cost to them. They did a great job, winning the freedom of 96 people, which is a remarkable record.

One of the eight lawyers for that project, Sean Nuttall, wrote a great piece about one of the sadder outcomes of the clemency initiative; you can read it here. This is how it begins:

Of the thirty-odd clemency petitions I prepared this year as an attorney with the NYU Clemency Resource Center, Tom’s was perhaps the strongest. Tom left home at sixteen because his mother, a methamphetamine addict, physically abused him. Out on his own, he began using drugs and was soon addicted, dealing small quantities to support his habit. One night when he was twenty-one, his girlfriend, also a drug user, asked him for heroin. They shot up together; unbeknownst to Tom, she had also taken a large amount of cocaine, and she suffered a fatal overdose. At trial, the jury found Tom guilty of drug distribution, but acquitted him of causing his girlfriend’s death, following testimony she had taken only about one-twentieth a lethal dose of heroin. Notwithstanding the verdict, however, the Judge found that heroin had contributed to her death. He sentenced Tom to eighty years in prison, under then mandatory sentencing guidelines.

Tom is no angel, but eighty years for an accident that happened when he was twenty-one seemed wildly excessive. I was not the only one to think so: In a letter of support to the pardon attorney, the judge explained that Tom’s sentence had haunted him since he imposed it sixteen years ago. But despite this strong support, last week I had to inform Tom his petition had not been granted.

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