Federal Commutation News

Jennifer Brooks | Star Tribune

"When the punishment seems harsher than the crime, the clinic offers a legal long shot: asking the president of the United States for a second chance."

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MSNBC

"A classmate of Trump Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who publicly endorsed him joins Ari Melber to discuss why he is officially pulling his support for Kavanaugh. The Yale Law School classmate, Mark Osler, tells “The Beat” that Kavanaugh’s failure to maintain “civility” during the hearings regarding his alleged assault of Dr. Ford, in particular his exchange with Sen. Amy Klobuchar was the turning point in his changing view."

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MSNBC

Clinic professor Mark Osler speaks with MSNBC on the White House Meeting on prison reform held in early September. 

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NPR

On Wednesday it was announced that President Trump had heeded the urging of Kim Kardashian West and would commute the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a non-violent drug offender serving a life sentence. It was a seemingly merciful and justified use of the president's power of clemency amidst a recent pardon spree that has largely benefited right-wing allies and firebrands like Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby, and Dinesh D'Souza.

But if Trump's unconventional and uneven application of the pardon power is rankling some feathers, University of St. Thomas law professor Mark Osler believes that he may be inadvertently improving the way that the clemency system works. He and Bob discuss the roots of the presidential pardon, how it came to be considered a political risk and what a better system would look like.

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Waco Tribune

Federal Commutations Clinic professor Mark Osler, "Everyone in politics, from the far right to the far left, seems to decry 'divisiveness,' a call that usually means that everyone else should come to their side and agree with them. The response to our divisions has not been compromise or moving to the middle; rather, it has been retrenchment and retribution. The result is a government that gets little done in addressing the very real challenges our nation faces."

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NPR

Clinic professor Mark Osler comments for NPR about the potential beginning of a celebrity-driven pardon system in the Trump era.

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Washington Post

With his fourth exercise of the clemency power, President Trump has once again chosen to favor someone (Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to former vice president Dick Cheney) who is connected and powerful. Meanwhile, none of the deserving federal prisoners with pending petitions — including many serving narcotics sentences that are now broadly condemned — have received a similar benefit. This is legal, but it is wrong.

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In a symposium commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, Professor Mark Osler sat on a panel of nationally renowned scholars to discuss the state of criminal justice. Hosted by the University of Memphis, the panel addressed policing in communities of color and contemporary penal policy, while grappling with the complex question of what policing and punishment should look like going forward.

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MARK OSLER Board of Contributors

In the end, we may well be left without charges against Trump and without an impeachment, even if significant evidence is developed against him. That might not be a bad thing. If we are left only with democratic solutions through orderly politics rather than prosecution, that still is much more than nothing. Solutions through the ballot box may not seem like “Hammer Time,” but they are just as American. Read more.

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I first visited St. Thomas Law to give a talk to the faculty at lunch. During the visit I saw the mission statement posted on a wall: “The University of St. Thomas School of Law, as a Catholic law school, is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice.” There, in a few words, were so many challenging imperatives. Faith and reason. Truth. Morality. Social Justice. Each different, each complicated, and each one of them was a part of what I had been imperfectly striving for.

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President Barack Obama used the pardon power to free hundreds of narcotics prisoners serving harsh terms. It was a principled use of mercy, a striking vision of the most powerful person on Earth recognizing the humanity of the least powerful. Now, President Donald Trump appears to be considering an abuse of that same power by helping some of the most powerful people on Earth, including himself. If he does try to stymie the investigation into collusion with Russia through clemency, Trump will harm both his legacy and the moral force of the pardon power itself.

 

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In August 2016, Rudy Martinez received clemency from President Obama. He was one of 1,714 people who had their sentences commuted during Obama’s second term. Like Rudy, nearly all of them were non-violent drug offenders. In those two-and-a-half decades of incarceration, he often joked that he would be free when the Cubs won the World Series. It turned out he was right.

 

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My school in downtown Minneapolis is built around a stunning atrium, a four-story glass-walled showcase looking out over a broad lawn and the Target corporate headquarters. Twice a year, new citizens of the United States are sworn in there as the sun streams in.

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As the presidency of Barack Obama wrapped up last week, so too did the largest federal clemency initiative in United States history. But not before the sentences of 105 federal inmates were cut short thanks to the work of University of St. Thomas School of Law Professor Mark Osler and his former students.

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“You’re just watching the ship sink and you’re in the lifeboat. And there’s not enough room for everyone,” said Mark Osler, a University of St. Thomas law professor and former federal prosecutor who runs a clemency clinic for law students. “These last few weeks — it’s deep joy and it’s deep tragedy.”

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The Constitution gives presidents nearly unlimited authority to grant pardons and commute sentences — decisions that no future administration can reverse. Unfortunately, for most of his presidency, Barack Obama treated mercy as an afterthought. Even as thousands of men and women endured outrageously long sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses as a result of the nation’s misguided drug war, Mr. Obama granted relief to only a tiny handful.

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A coalition of more than 50 scholars and advocates are calling on President Obama to expand clemency efforts in the final weeks of his administration — including considering granting clemency to entire groups of people without case-by-case review.

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Mark Osler's journey has led him from a career as a fierce prosecutor, to now arguing for clemency and leniency in sentencing. He also works to abolish the death penalty. We talk about this transformation, as well as his new book, Prosecuting Jesus.

In our conversation, Osler talks about being a prosecutor in an era of "mandatory minimum sentences." He would watch defense attorneys make impassioned arguments, even though the words would not lessen the sentence that would be imposed. Despite their seeming futility, Osler credits those passionate speeches with changing his own mind about the criminal justice system, and his role in it.

We go to the heart of the importance of that "faithful futility" in this compelling and fascinating interview.

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This election cycle has been a cruel one. The presidential candidates share one thing, at least: the instinct to attack their opponent in the most cutting way possible. Our electorate is largely following suit. Many Trump supporters genuinely believe Hillary Clinton is evil. An equal number of Clinton supporters cannot imagine why anyone would vote for Trump, a man they despise.

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We are in the heart of cross country season for high school and college athletes. Watching a race last week reminded me of this crucial point in the Obama presidency. Just as runners accelerate to the finish, knowing that moving up in those last few hundred yards may be the difference between a victory for their team or a loss, President Obama will finish his clemency project either with a flourish—thus ensuring his legacy for restoring the lost tool of the pardon power—or with a limp, coloring his record on criminal justice. If he fails to finish strong, it will not just be his legacy that suffers, but the hopes of prisoners with good cases and the sense of fairness one hopes for when justice and mercy meet the levers of power.

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Drawing on his training as a federal prosecutor and professor of law, Mark Osler and a group of friends have been staging the trial of Jesus around the country over the last several years.
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The scene: a briefing room at the White House. Date: March 31, 2016.

The audience: a diverse group of administration officials, attorneys, human rights activists and former prisoners who had received presidential grants of clemency.

The day before, President Barack Obama had announced another 61 such grants, bringing the total of prisoners whose sentences he had commuted during his presidency to 248. That same day, however, The Washington Post had run an article critical of the administration for not doing enough to act on the thousands of petitions for clemency from federal prisoners serving lengthy sentences. The article prominently quoted a law professor – an expert on clemency – calling the grants nothing to celebrate when more than 9,000 petitions from eligible prisoners remained pending.

The source quoted: Professor Mark Osler of the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

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The work of the Federal Commutations clinic and Professor Osler is covered by Fox 9 News.

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Law professor Mark Osler told a federal inmate serving a life sentence that he would be a free man by New Years.

The news came by the White House and the Department of Justice, which announced Tuesday President Barack Obama had commuted the sentences of 111 federal inmates.

Osler holds the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. Before joining the law faculty, he was an assistant U.S. attorney in Detroit, during which time he prosecuted innumerable drug cases, enforcing the draconian sentencing laws he now rails against from academia.

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Prof. Osler talks to NPR about President Obama's clemency policy and his own federal commutations work.

Osler, the law professor and lawyer for inmates seeking mercy, said he thinks the president believes in the effort. Obama, he said, visited a prison and went to lunch with people who won clemency. The question for the next five months is whether the White House can finish the job, even if it angers some Republicans in Congress, Osler added.

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Earlier this month, President Obama made history by commuting the sentences of 214 people in federal prisons. That action, one of the largest exercises of presidential clemency powers since Gerald R. Ford granted pardons to Vietnam draft dodgers and deserters facing prison in 1974, has been hailed by the White House as a sign of Obama’s commitment to clemency.

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Prof. Mark Osler continues with other thought leaders to push the Obama administration to move faster on clemency. Initiatives to turn back the overreach of sentencing that led to mass incarceration are chronicled in an Atlantic Monthly piece yesterday.
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When President Barack Obama granted clemency to 214 federal inmates last week, University of St. Thomas School of Law professor Mark Osler and several of his former students finally saw the fruits of their labor—some more than five years in the making. On Obama’s list were the names of six men whose freedom they helped make possible.

Through their work as clinical student attorneys in the Federal Commutations Clinic at St. Thomas Law, alumni Marc Spooner ’12, Ashley Bennett ‘13, Derek Hansen ‘13, Eric Hylok ’15 and Jamie Waldon ‘15 directly impacted the lives of three men whose sentences were commuted Aug. 3. An additional three men were helped by Waldon through his work with the Clemency Resource Center at New York University, a pro bono law office that Osler co-founded, where Waldon works alongside Hylok and four other fellows.

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The work of our Federal Commutations Clinic students, under the leadership of Prof. Osler, is highlighted in Politico.

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Prof. Osler comments in the Star Tribune article, Drug inmate wins release, thanks to University of Minnesota program.

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On June 3, 2016, Robert Sleepers received the phone call he had thought about for the past 12 years. Sentenced in June 2004 to a mandatory minimum of 20 years for his role in a non-violent, relatively low-level conspiracy to distribute cocaine, Sleepers admittedly broke the law, but his punishment far exceeded his crime.

For more than 12 years, Sleepers had limited contact with the tight-knit family that supported him throughout his incarceration. He and his family members relied on letters, rare visits, and telephone calls to maintain their tight family bond. On holidays his family members would gather around the phone in one central location to allow each of them to speak with the father and brother they had all missed over the past decade. However, the June 2016 phone call brought news that would change future holidays for Sleepers and his family.

Read more in Newsroom.

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The work of the NYU Clemency Project and Prof. Mark Osler written about in the Harvard Gazette.

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Prof. Osler, Director of Federal Commutations Clinic, writes for the Baltimore Sun along with Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Foundations.
Clinton and Sanders should commit to clemency | The Baltimore Sun | May 19, 2016

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Professor Osler comments in The Washington Post regarding his work with the Clemency Resource Center.

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Professor Osler, Director of the Federal Commutations Clinic, is featured in an article in Fusion regarding  the Obama Administration's Clemency policy.

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This good-looking bunch are the students and supervisors of the of the federal inmate clemency clinic at the law school at the University of St. Thomas. The clinic was founded by Professor Mark Osler, the speaker at Drinking Liberally in Minneapolis on April 28th.

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April 1, 2016, IN my pocket is something ancient: a 1,700-year-old Roman coin. It bears three human images and the word “Clementia.” That was the name of the Roman goddess of mercy, who was often depicted standing beside (and holding the hand of) the Roman emperor. The message was clear: Mercy was a virtue not only of individuals but also of governments. The framers of the United States Constitution embraced that tradition when they preserved for the president one of the traditional powers of kings: the pardon power.

That ancient ideal needs to be put into action by President Obama. Despite commuting on Wednesday the sentences of 61 federal prisoners convicted of drug and firearm crimes — bringing his total number of commutations to 248, more than that of his six predecessors combined — he is far from accomplishing the ambitious goals his administration publicly set out two years ago.

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University of St. Thomas School of Law Professor Mark Osler spoke at the White House on Thursday, March 31, to discuss and share ideas on President Barack Obama’s clemency initiative alongside other advocates, academics and Administration officials.

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Federal Commutation News

A Conversation with a Former Prosecutor

While Jeanne, her family, and her friends, knew she had forgiven Biro, the killer himself had not heard from Jeanne. That would change following a conversation with Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor, and a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis.

“We were at dinner one night, and she was talking about David Biro, and one of the things that came up and she was struggling with how do you forgive someone who’s remorseless. I asked her, ‘how do you know that,’ because she’d never talked to him. She’d never said his name. And she said, ‘well, at trial, he denied everything.’ I said ‘that was when he was 16 years old, that was a long time ago.’ Two decades had passed since then. She had that moment of reflection,” Osler told Fox 9.

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News

"These are not easy questions that are being addressed, and because of that it does take an investment of time and resources," said University of St. Thomas law professor Mark Osler. "It's not the person; it's the process, and this administration has to realize that."

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University of St. Thomas School of Law professor Mark Osler recently announced the opening of a unique initiative, a pro-bono, pop-up law office. The Clemency Resource Center (CRC) will be open for only one year and will exclusively prepare petitions for federal clemency.

Osler calls the new operation a “factory of justice” and has the goal of addressing at least 300 clemency cases. The pop-up is housed and co-founded by the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University School of Law.

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New York University School of Law is launching a yearlong pro bono law office that will help federal prisoners seek clemency. Seven full-time attorneys—primarily recent law school graduates—will begin handling prisoners’ applications in August.

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NYU School of Law announced the launch of the Clemency Resource Center (CRC), a pop-up law office within the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law (CACL). The CRC was co-founded by Rachel Barkow, Segal Family Professor of Regulatory Law and Policy at NYU Law, and Mark Osler, who holds the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of St. Thomas. Erin Collins, a former public defender and acting assistant professor at NYU Law, serves as executive director. Generously funded by Open Society Foundations, the CRC will begin work in August.
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