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Tag: clemency

Obama Denies Clemency for Native American Convicted of Killing 2 FBI Agents

Leonard Peltier/photo from his website

Leonard Peltier/photo from his website

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

President Obama will not grant clemency to Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who was found guilty of killing two FBI agents during a shootout at a South Dakota reservation in 1975.

The president denied Peltier’s application for clemency, the Washington Times reports. 

The clemency was “not warranted,” the administration’s Office of the Pardon Attorney told Peltier’s attorney.

“Your client’s application was therefore denied by the president on January 18, 2017… Under the Constitution, there is no appeal from this decision,” the notice stated.

Peltier is 72 and seriously ill.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that President Obama will not let Leonard go home,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “Despite serious concerns about the fairness of legal proceedings that led to his trial and conviction, Peltier was imprisoned for more than 40 years. He has always maintained his innocence. The families of the FBI agents who were killed during the 1975 confrontation between the FBI and American Indian Movement (AIM) members have a right to justice, but justice will not be served by Peltier’s continued imprisonment.”

The FBI Agents Association President Thomas O’Connor  issued a statement:

The FBI Agents Association agrees with the decision of the Obama Administration to deny Leonard Peltier’s petition for executive clemency. In well over a dozen appeals, twice reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, every aspect of Mr. Peltier’s trial has been reviewed in detail. Mr. Peltier has never taken responsibility for his crimes while imprisoned.

Our thoughts today are with the families of FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, who were killed by Mr. Peltier in 1975.  The FBI Agents Association will continue to counter efforts by Mr. Peltier’s legal and public relations team to portray him as anything other than who Leonard Peltier really is: an unremorseful, cold-blooded killer. Mr. Peltier should remain in prison and not be shown a mercy he refused to offer to Agents Coler and Williams in 1975, and has denied to their families and friends over the past four decades.

I would like to thank FBIAA members, the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI and former FBI Supervisory Agent Ed Woods for their advocacy efforts against executive clemency for Mr. Peltier.

Native American Sentenced to Killing FBI Agents in 1977 Asks for Clemency

Leonard PeltierBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A group of prominent lawyers is trying to win the freedom of Leonard Peltier, a Lakota tribe member who was convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1977.

Mother Jones reports that Peltier, who has served 40 of his 71 federal prison sentence, is appealing for clemency and requesting that President Obama make it happen.

“[T]he time has come for the interests of the law enforcement community to be balanced against principles of fundamental fairness, reconciliation, and healing,” the lawyers wrote in a five-page letter to the president. 

“Mr. Peltier has exhausted all appeals and is next eligible to apply for parole in 2024, in the unlikely event that he lives that long,” the letter to Obama states. “The Parole Commission has yielded to the objections of the FBI and DOJ in denying Mr. Peltier’s applications for parole at every turn. Effectively, this Petition represents the last chance in Mr. Peltier’s lifetime for the Government to take curative and/or reconciliatory action.”

To some, Peltier has become international symbol the justice system’s mistreatment of Native Americans. His trial was fraught with irregularities, including witnesses who said they were coerced by the FBI.

Justice Department Plans to Hire More Attorneys to Handle Clemency Cases

jail2photoBy Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

President Obama’s push to grant early release to federal prisoners has prompted the Justice Department to announce it’s drastically increasing the number of attorneys to handle the clemency, The Daily Caller reports. 

The Office of the Pardon Attorney is looking for 16 attorney advisors to help handle the clemency cases.

The hiring would more than double the agency’s staffing level, which currently has seven permanent attorneys.

The Justice Department has encouraged federal prisoners to petition for early release.

Under the initiative, announced in April 2014, federal prisoners who served at least a decade in prison for non-violent crimes are eligible.

NYT Columnist: President Obama’s Justice Department Shows Hypocrisy

president obama state of unionBy Alec Karakatsanis
New York Times

Last month, President Obama used his clemency power to reduce the sentences of 46 federal prisoners locked up on drug-related charges. But for the last six years, his administration has worked repeatedly behind the scenes to ensure that tens of thousands of poor people — disproportionately minorities — languish in federal prison on sentences declared by the courts, and even the president himself, to be illegal and unjustifiable.

The case of Ezell Gilbert is emblematic of this injustice. In March 1997, he was sentenced to 24 years and four months in federal prison for possession with the intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. Because of mandatory sentencing laws, Mr. Gilbert was automatically sentenced to a quarter-century in prison, though even the judge who sentenced him admitted that this was too harsh.

At his sentencing, Mr. Gilbert noted a legal error that improperly increased his sentence by approximately a decade based on a misclassification of one of his prior offenses. In 1999, without a lawyer, he filed a petition seeking his release. A court ruled against him.

Nearly 10 years later, the Supreme Court issued aruling in another prisoner’s case, confirming that Mr. Gilbert had been right. A public defender helped him file a new petition for immediate release in light of this new decision.

Mr. Obama’s Justice Department, however, convinced a Florida federal judge that even if Mr. Gilbert’s sentence was illegal, he had to remain in prison because prisoners should not be able to petition more than once for release. The “finality” of criminal cases was too important, the department argued, to allow prisoners more than one petition, even if a previous one was wrongly denied.

Pro Publica: Three Things Obama’s New Clemency Initiative Doesn’t Do

By Kara Brandeisky
ProPublica

Today, the Department of Justice outlined expanded criteria that could allow prisoners convicted of non-violent crimes to win early release from prison. Under the new initiative, the Office of the Pardon Attorney will fast-track commutation applications from inmates who have served more than 10 years for non-violent offenses and who were well-behaved while imprisoned.

As part of the shift, the department is replacing Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers. Two years ago, we reported that Rodgershad failed to provide critical information to the White House in urging denial of a commutation for Clarence Aaron, a model prisoner who served nearly 20 years for a small role in a drug deal.

Aaron’s release was championed by civil liberties groups, and late last year he was among eight prisoners whose cocaine-related sentences were commuted by President Obama. His case was among the more than 35 stories ProPublica has published over the past three years about racial discrimination in pardon outcomes and questionable practices in the process.

Obama’s commutation reforms cheered prisoners’ rights advocates, who say they are a necessary corrective to an unfair sentencing regime. But the new initiatives, which appear to be aimed at commutations, don’t address other problems identified in our reporting on presidential clemency.

Here’s three areas the new initiative doesn’t address:

1. Whether Outgoing Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers Was Disciplined

Aaron was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for abetting a drug conspiracy – though he had not sold, bought, or supplied the cocaine, and he had no prior criminal convictions. Though he seemed like a model candidate for early release, President Bush denied his petition in December 2008.

Rodgers had misrepresented some key facts about Aaron’s case in his report to the White House. As we reported, both the U.S. attorney for the South District of Alabama and Aaron’s sentencing judge had supported Aaron’s petition. Instead, Rodgers inaccurately informed the White House that the U.S. attorney thought the request was “about 10 years premature.”

In December 2012, the Justice Department’s inspector general said Rodgers’ conduct “fell substantially short of the high standards expected of Department of Justice employees and the duty he owed the President.” In a report, the IG said Justice should review “whether administrative action is appropriate.”

Rodgers has remained in his position until today, when Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced that Rodgers would be replaced by Deborah Leff, the Acting Senior Counselor for Access to Justice. After a transition, Rodgers will take on “another role” in the agency, a Justice Department news release said.

“Over the past several years, Ron has performed admirably in what is a very tough job,” Cole said. “He has demonstrated dedication and integrity in his work on pardons and commutations.”

Asked by a reporter if Rodgers’ departure was related to the inspector general report, Cole said it’s typical for senior officials to change positions within the department. “Ron has expressed some desire for a while to move on, as the senior executive service usually does,” he said.

A spokeswoman from the department was unable to confirm whether Rodgers had been disciplined for his role in the Aaron case. “We can’t comment on personnel matters given Privacy Act concerns,” she said.

Read more »

Justice Department Readies for Unprecedented Campaign to Grant Clemency to Nonviolent Offenders

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The Obama administration is anticipating thousands of clemency requests from federal inmates imprisoned for drug offenses.

The Washington Post reports that the clemencies are part of an unprecedented campaign to create more equity in criminal sentencing by freeing some nonviolent offenders.

The initiative will last two years and will involve dozens of reassigned lawyers to the pardons office.

“The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Monday.

“The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences.”

Justice Department Hunting for Worthy Inmates Who Would Qualify for Clemency

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

The Justice Department is searching prisoners who may qualify for clemency.

NPR reports that Deputy Attorney General James Cole met Tuesday with defense attorneys and interest groups to help identify inmates with clean records, long sentences for low-level crimes and no significant history with gangs or violence.

The speech is a strong indication that President Obama plans to use his powers to shorten prison sentences for some worthy prisoners.

Defense attorneys said they are excited to help.

“We look forward to working together with them and others to help identify potential commutation cases and ensure prisoners have trained pro bono counsel to submit focused petitions for the meaningful consideration the Deputy Attorney General has pledged they will receive,” said Mary Price of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

FBI Director Comey: NSA Leader Snowden Is No Hero or Whistleblower

Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

FBI Director James Comey can think of a few adjectives to describe NSA leaker Edward Snowden, but “whistleblower” and “hero” are not among them.

NPR reports that Comey can’t understand why Snowden would be held up as a hero when all three branches of the U.S. government have approved surveillance of phone records.

“I see the government operating the way the founders intended,” Comey said, “so I have trouble applying the whistleblower label to someone who basically disagrees with the way our government is structured and operates.”

That’s not good news for Snowden’s supporters, who are calling on President Obama to grant Snowden clemency or leniency.