Our Federal Clemency Clinic, established two years ago by Professors Wendy Bach and Joy Radice, officially ended its work on January 20th. The clinic was established in response to the Obama administration’s interest in identifying non-violent drug offenders who might merit commutation.
The Federal Clemency Clinic at UT submitted fourteen petitions to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. For the two years that the clemency clinic existed, countless students enrolled in the Clemency and Advocacy Clinics poured their time, energy, and passion into these cases, traveling across the state to interview clients, locate witnesses, and gather records. They researched, drafted and redrafted. They collaborated with former counsel, consulted with federal defenders, and reviewed extensive trial records. They learned federal sentencing law, navigated the complexities of the Bureau of Prisons, and befriended families who were supporting their loved ones from outside the walls.
Although this effort was collective in every sense, one student in particular deserves our special gratitude. Recent graduate Tom Smith joined the project in the Spring of his 2L year as a student in the Advocacy Clinic. Beginning the following summer, Tom began to serve as clinic clerk, remaining in that position throughout his 3L year. Even after we could no longer pay him, Tom remained as a volunteer. He became an expert in federal sentencing law and the commutation criteria, and an important lifeline between the project and its clients. In the end, Tom contributed, often substantially, to every petition that was filed. The petitions that were granted were granted in large part due to his dedication, expertise, and hard work.
By the end of the project, two clients were released on grounds other than clemency, and four were granted commutation. The remaining clients either had their petitions denied or did not receive a decision before the close of the Obama administration. We are thrilled that clinic clients Deborah Blue, Quincy Goins, Emlera Quince, and Ishon Hardin have been released from prison and have returned to their families. At the same time, we regret that our other eight clients were either denied clemency or did not receive a decision before the close of the Obama administration. This project and the cases we lost reminds us of the many personal injustices which lie at the heart of mass incarceration.