Students of the University of Tennessee College of Law’s Federal Clemency Clinic have secured their first victories.
The clinic’s first victory came in early June when client Emlera Quince received a commuted sentence under a under a federal clemency initiative that seeks to reduce the long sentences previously required by mandatory federal drug sentencing laws.
Quince will be officially released on October 1. During his nineteen years of incarceration, the 55-year-old Quince has completed more than 150 classes and has dutifully worked in a factory position for ten years, now serving as head office clerk.
“It’s the best news I’ve gotten,” Quince said upon learning of his commutation, one of 348 commutations made by President Barack Obama since 2014 as part of the federal clemency initiative. “I really can’t even put it into words. I am very excited.”
A second client, Deborah Blue, found out her 19-year sentence was commuted to time served in early August and will be officially released on December 1. In 2006 when Blue was sentenced, federal judges did not have discretion over sentencing and could not reduce extremely long mandatory sentences. However, today judges do have discretion, but recent sentencing changes did not impact the extremely long sentences of thousands of people like Blue. To correct this sentencing disparity, President Obama created a special clemency process for inmates, many whom are facing life in prison, who would have received lower sentences under the new laws.
Like Quince, Blue has made significant and positive personal changes while in prison, which made her a model candidate for clemency. She earned her GED, completed over 1,000 hours of educational courses, and developed expertise in maintenance work, which she plans to use to secure employment after her release. She is also eager to reconnect with her children and grandchildren and will live with her daughter in Georgia, who will support her re-entry.
“I have grandkids I’ve never seen or held…I want to tell them jail ain’t worth it,” said Blue upon learning of her clemency grant. “All the millions of dollars in the world can’t take one day back that my grandkid was born and I wasn’t there, or someone in my family died and I wasn’t there. I want to tell them that money is not everything; freedom is the most important thing in this world.”
Most recently, a third client gained clemency. Quincy Alan Goins, a young man who had received a life sentence for a drug charge at the age of 22, was awarded clemency and will return to his family in eastern Tennessee. Despite the hopelessness that a life sentence can produce, Goins never gave up, maintaining a perfect behavior record for sixteen years while completing many educational programs. Goins says he looks forward to showing his family the person he has become while in prison.
The Federal Clemency Clinic was launched by professors Joy Radice and Wendy Bach in cooperation with the national Clemency Project and federal defenders, who are not authorized to file clemency petitions for clients. The clinic still has nine other federal clemency cases awaiting decisions.