Monday, October 31, 2016

Commutations Continue as Obama's Presidency Winds Down

More Commutations: Rare Federal Not-Guilty Jury Verdict; Yale Law School vs. BOP
by Derek Gilna 

            Ninety eight more federal prisoners got good news in the past week that their sentences had been commuted, although most had conditions of drug education attached to the shortened sentences.  Nonetheless, any reduction of the draconian sentences of the past twenty years is good news. There will be more to come.

            One recent not-guilty jury verdict caught our eye, the case of the non-violent federal lands standoff by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who had been charged with possession of firearms in a federal facility and conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur Nation Wildlife Refuse, 300 miles southeast of Portland, Oregon.

            Of the 26 occupiers charged with conspiracy, eleven pleaded guilty, one had his charges dropped, and seven chose to be tried at different times. It is extremely rare for any conspiracy defendant in a case with multiple defendants to be found not guilty. Perhaps the increasing lack of faith in government officials was a factor in the jury's not-guilty verdict. 

            Finally,  Yale Law School, the alma mater of Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as other luminaries, has sent a letter to the Bureau of Prisons requesting an end to the long-standing policy of limiting phone minutes to 300 minutes a month, except for holiday months.

             Citing the BOP's own written policy that it recognizes the importance of maintaining relationships during incarceration, Yale was sharply critical of a "BOP policy (that) is deeply misguided." We write to ask that the Bureau ...rescind the 300-minute limit on telephone access." Also signing the letter was Paul Wright, Executive Director of the Human Rights Defense Center, the parent organization of Prison Legal News.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Commutations Continue; Clinton Email Treatment Shows Justice Favors Wealthy

Additional Commutations Give Hope to Remaining Applicants;
 SCOTUS Accepts Manuel v City of Joliet Case Regarding Police Misconduct


            The granting of an additional 102 commutations with only approximately three months remaining in President Obama’s term of office was yet another step in the right direction, bringing the total number of commutations to 774, out of 191,965 federal prisoners still in custody as of the end of September. Although none of our applicants were among the lucky ones in this batch, estimates are that at least 1500 remaining applications might qualify for relief. All of you who have not gotten outright rejections are apparently still in the mix, so keep your fingers crossed.

            There are other big stories, however, that also have an impact on the sentence relief landscape. Whatever your preference in this year’s presidential election campaign, the big loser so far has been the credibility of the FBI and the DOJ.  Over 60% of the American public feels that the democratic candidate caught a huge break (no kidding!) by not being prosecuted, helping to make more believable the truism that American justice favors the wealthy.  What makes this unusual is that the public generally likes to ignore criminal justice inequities because it generally thinks that prosecutions happen to “bad people,” or “people that deserve it.” Courts have begun to notice this shift in opinion.

            The Supreme Court recently accepted the federal civil-rights case of Manuel v. City of Joliet, where the Joliet, Illinois police department was sued for a traffic stop that discovered only vitamin pills, wrongfully booking him for drug possession, and holding him in custody for six weeks without evidence. This follows the continuing pattern we have seen of police misconduct in the arrest, interrogation, and prosecution process, and the authorities doing their best to cover up their collective misconduct.
            Those in custody know all too well that the justice system does its best to hide its mistakes, but the spread of technologically-based investigation techniques has begun to overcome this. However, even the incorrect rulings of inherently prosecution-favoring district court judges can be overcome at the appellate level with a strong argument backed up with sufficient evidence.