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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

8/4/2014 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Constitution does not guarantee inmates the right to legal representation in such procedures

In yet another setback for the Obama administration, a plan to extend clemency to thousands of prisoners was quelled last week after the agency that oversees the federal courts said that hundreds of federal public defenders as well as other court-appointed attorneys were not authorized to represent inmates in the process.

Ideal candidates for clemency would have been nonviolent, low-level drug offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations.

Ideal candidates for clemency would have been nonviolent, low-level drug offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

8/4/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: Clemency, Constitutional law, Obama administration, non-violent offenders


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Laid out in a memorandum written by the top lawyer for the Administrative Office of the Courts, the ruling effectively forbids lawyers from drafting or submitting clemency petitions. The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee inmates the right to legal representation in such procedures.

"There is no Sixth Amendment right to counsel for purposes of seeking executive clemency and no statutory right, except in capital cases . there is no authority under the CJA [Criminal Justice Act] or other law to appoint counsel in non-capital clemency proceedings," General Counsel Robert Loesche wrote In a memo circulated to federal defenders and the chief judges of all U.S. district and appellate courts.

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Under that particular interpretation, federal defenders, whose salaries are paid by the government, and court-appointed private attorneys, who receive federal reimbursement when they are called in for service, could not legally be paid for representing clemency candidates.

It's definite setback for a coalition of legal and advocacy groups that acted of the Justice Department's behest to lead the clemency effort. The decision was heralded as a cornerstone of the administration's criminal justice reform agenda.

It would sideline many lawyers who have come to know their clients' cases intimately over years of work, requiring them to turn over the task of filing clemency petitions - which draw on a prisoner's personal and legal history - to new attorneys.

The administration's clemency drive since January has relied heavily on the defense bar to carry out its vision, with the federal defenders assuming a lead role.

Underlying the clemency drive was the discrepancy in sentences thousands of federal inmates are currently serving, as well as those they would have faced had they been arrested and tried under today's prosecuting and sentencing reforms. The clemency effort would address concerns of fairness by shortening those sentences as well as alleviating the budgetary strain of the large federal prison population.

Ideal candidates for clemency would have been nonviolent, low-level drug offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations. They would also have had to serve at least 10 years of their prison sentences, not have a significant history of crime or violence and have demonstrated good conduct in prison.

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