The Clemency Project Clinic advocates for inmates serving disproportionately long prison sentences. Inaugurated in 2014 in response to President Obama’s clemency initiative for non-violent and low-level federal inmates, the Project has since expanded its client-base beyond federal clemency applicants to include state clemency applicants and also petitions for a judicial “second look” at the inmate’s sentence under available processes, including, for example, compassionate release regulations, release mechanisms under the First Step Act, and habeas corpus.
Students meet once a week and explore sentencing processes in state and federal sentencing systems, the role of sentencing advocacy in securing favorable outcomes, the factors that influence its quality, and the insights from social scientists that can critique and improve it. The class draws on the wealth of interdisciplinary expertise on the University of Minnesota campus as well as in our local professional community.
In addition, each weekly session will cover an aspect of law practice management: engagement letters, maintaining adequate time records, managing client expectations, communication of decision to decline representation, etc.
Most notably, however, the students learn by doing—through hands-on involvement in actual clemency or “second look” petitions. Each student gets their own case, under Prof. Murray’s supervision and with Prof. Murray as counsel of record, and as such, will get to know a real human being and their family members, many of whom have served a substantial portion of a long sentence and have many more years to go. The student will strategize, research, and develop an effective clemency/second-look petition. Using a “teaching hospital” format, and subject to a strict confidentiality protocol, students then brainstorm each other’s cases, critique the clemency/second- look strategy, and learn from any judicial or executive outcomes.