FAMM Calls for Congressional Review of Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney

May 14, 2012
Contact: Monica Pratt Raffanel, media@famm.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Julie Stewart, FAMM’s president and founder, issued the following statement in reaction to the latest disturbing investigative article from ProPublica and The Washington Post about the handling of requests for sentence commutations by federal prisoners at the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA):
“This report is extremely disturbing but not surprising. Between this report and ProPublica’s earlier report on the pardon process, the Pardon Attorney’s office has been shown to willfully misrepresent the facts of commutation requests to the President and contribute to a racial imbalance among pardon recipients. The Pardon Attorney’s office is not a gatekeeper but a brick wall.

Congress should investigate this egregious behavior immediately with oversight hearings. The entire clemency process should be removed from the Department of Justice’s control. It is not in the president or the public’s interest to have a Pardon Attorney’s office that is captive to a prosecutorial agenda, doesn’t take clemency cases seriously, and doesn’t treat applicants fairly.

We have long believed that the Pardon Attorney’s case evaluations have been subjective and misleading. Now we know that is true in the case of Clarence Aaron. Many other cases are suspect, too. President Obama denied a commutation to Barbara Scrivner, a low-level, nonviolent drug offender who has served 16 years of her 30-year sentence for her minor and addiction-driven role in her husband’s methamphetamine activity. Did the Pardon Attorney ever inform President Obama of Scrivner’s extraordinary rehabilitation and the support she had from the prosecutors who tried her, the judge who sentenced her, and her congressman? If someone with that much support cannot get a favorable recommendation from the Pardon Attorney, who can?
The ProPublica article, by reporter Dafna Linzer, describes the case of Clarence Aaron, a first-time, nonviolent drug offender serving a life without parole sentence in federal prison for his minor involvement in a crack cocaine transaction at age 23. His first commutation request was denied in 2004.  In 2008, his second request was denied largely because OPA withheld critical information from the White House about prosecutorial and judicial support for Aaron’s clemency.  Aaron’s third request has been pending for two years.  He has served almost 20 years as a model prisoner.

Previous reporting by ProPublica showed numerous shortcomings in how the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which is located in the Department of Justice, reviews commutation and pardon requests from federal prisoners and makes recommendations to the president. There is strong evidence that OPA is understaffed and does not provide meaningful or complete review of the thousands of clemency requests it receives annually.

Read both ProPublica reports about the Office of the Pardon Attorney at: http://www.propublica.org/series/presidential-pardons

Read more stories of federal prisoners serving unjust mandatory sentences at http://www.famm.org/FacesofFAMM/FederalProfiles.aspx.

FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) is a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports fair and proportionate sentencing laws that allow judicial discretion while maintaining public safety. www.famm.org



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FAMM is a national, nonprofit organization working for fair and proportionate sentencing laws.