Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a first-in-the-nation partnership between a state and a coalition of legal organizations to expand New York's pro bono clemency program.
This partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, with support from the Foundation for Criminal Justice, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and other organizations is modeled after a successful federal program that has been discontinued since the Trump administration. This new partnership greatly expands the Governor's clemency initiative founded in 2015 that provided pro bono clemency petition services to individuals with criminal records or incarcerated in state prison.
"These nationally recognized organizations have already proven successful in helping incarcerated individuals get access to the resources they need to apply for clemency, make the case for their rehabilitation and have the opportunity to contribute to and re-enter society," Governor Cuomo said. "I'm proud to partner with them to expand the work of this administration and its partners and take one more step toward a more just, more fair and more compassionate New York for all."
By engaging more pro bono lawyers, this partnership will provide a steady supply of high-quality clemency applications for the Governor's Counsel's Office to review. The NACDL will work with the Executive Clemency Bureau to identify those deserving of a second chance, and make clemency a more accessible and tangible reality in New York.
The Governor launched his clemency review initiative in 2015 with the assistance of the New York City Bar Association, the New York County Lawyers Association, the New York State Bar Association, the Legal Aid Society, Prisoners' Legal Services of New York and the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and other state organizations. Governor Cuomo engages in a careful, holistic review of clemency applications and the assistance that these volunteer attorneys provide has resulted in an increase in the number of strong petitions for the Governor to review. Three individuals represented by pro bono counsel through the program were granted clemency in 2016.
Approximately 1,700 potential applicants for clemency have identified under this program and this new partnership with New York will increase the number of volunteer attorneys in the initiative to assist more applicants in need.
Under the now-defunct federal program, which was launched by the Obama Administration in 2014, these organizations trained nearly 4,000 volunteer lawyers from diverse practice backgrounds and completed screening of the more than 36,000 federal prisoners who requested volunteer assistance.
For more information about the NACDL/FAMM State Clemency Project, including how to sign up to volunteer, visit the project website, https://stateclemency.org.
Although individuals may apply for clemency without the assistance of an attorney, assistance from a pro bono attorney will enhance the quality of an inmate's application and present his or her best case to the Governor.
Since 2011, Governor Cuomo has commuted the sentences of 10 individuals, and granted pardons to 114 individuals as a part of an ambitious clemency agenda that seeks to identify individuals demonstrating evidence of rehabilitation and self-development amounting to a true change in character or circumstance since incarceration, to help ensure that clemency is a more accessible and tangible reality. He used his pardon power to provide first in the nation relief for New Yorkers convicted of a misdemeanor or non-violent felony at 16 or 17 years old who have been crime-free for ten years, issuing the first conditional pardons to more than 100 New Yorkers in December 2016.
Individuals interested in applying for clemency should visit Governor Cuomo's clemency website, www.ny.gov/clemency. The website is a central resource for those seeking to learn more about clemency, eligibility requirements, and the application process, including submitting application materials electronically. Family members and friends of individuals serving prison sentences are encouraged to visit the website and apply for clemency on behalf of their family member or friend.
Norman Reimer, Executive Director of NACDL said, "NACDL is proud to work with its partners, the Foundation for Criminal Justice (FCJ) and Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), in a coordinated effort to recruit, train, and support pro bono counsel for all prisoner applicants for clemency. We salute Governor Cuomo and his administration for recognizing that people are capable of redemption and rehabilitation, and may have earned a fresh start in life."
Bret Parker, Executive Director of the New York City Bar Association, said, "The New York City Bar Association looks forward to continuing its work with the Governor's office on this worthy initiative that treats the incarcerated as individuals who in many cases deserve a second chance. We welcome NACDL's participation in streamlining the process for all involved."
John S. Wallenstein, the President of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said, “The Clemency Project is a significant endeavor in the effort to provide justice to all New Yorkers. With the input of people in state government, NYSACDL’s members can more effectively offer pro bono legal assistance to individuals who are incarcerated in New York prisons. This partnership is a welcome expansion to the existing project, as it will bring more lawyers together with applicants who lack the resources to pay for representation. With more training, mentoring, and electronic access to client materials, this partnership will help our members better represent reformed and rehabilitated applicants in the State’s process, and assist them in their efforts to apply for clemency. I thank the Governor for expanding this successful program and for being a staunch ally of incarcerated New Yorkers.”
David Loftis, Attorney-In-Charge of Post-Conviction and Forensic Litigation at the Legal Aid Society said, "We have been pleased to work with the Governor's office on clemency cases. In particular, we have been gratified that, over the past year, the Governor has commuted the sentences of worthy applicants represented by The Legal Aid Society and our pro bono partners. We were excited to learn that NACDL will be joining the clemency effort, and The Legal Aid Society looks forward to partnering with them to bring candidates deserving a second chance to the Governor's attention."
Michael J. McNamara, NYCLA President said, “Participating in the Governor’s clemency initiative has been a very meaningful experience for NYCLA and the volunteer lawyers who have taken on these important cases. Through the leadership of NYCLA’s Pro Bono Committee, we enlisted volunteer lawyers who have taken on nine clemency petitions to date. As the volunteer lawyers developed relationships with the clients and learned their stories, they have been impressed by the steps they have taken to understand the consequences of their actions that resulted in their incarceration, rehabilitate themselves, give back to their communities, and to pave the way for leading productive lives if granted clemency. We welcome NACDL’s involvement in this important initiative, which will ensure that incarcerated people who have demonstrated rehabilitation will be more efficiently matched with pro bono attorneys.”
Kevin Ring, President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said, “We’re grateful to Governor Cuomo for his willingness to consider granting clemency to those who have earned a second chance."