At the beginning of the year, 14 clients whose clemency cases had been pending during the Trump administration got commutations. “We also got 14 from the Obama administration, but one or two at a time,” Murray says. “Fourteen in one fell swoop was quite unexpected.”
The Minnesota Board of Pardons also granted clemency to a clinic client serving a 25-year sentence, and Murray hopes for more similar actions to come. “The current pardon board seems very open to using its commutation power more expansively,” she says.
For clinic student Emmanuel Williams, the work led to increased interest in pursuing clemency. “I have turned to more post-conviction work,” he says. “I’ll work on expungement over the spring and summer of this year.”
Murray hopes for more commutations from the Biden administration, based on his campaign promises, including his plan to grant clemency to some prisoners serving their sentences in home confinement because of COVID-19. She also believes society has reached a tipping point regarding incarceration. “I think there’s a dawning bipartisan awareness across the country that we have people serving sentences that are too long and are outdated by current standards,” she says.
Clemency Project students will continue to pursue cases that Murray chooses for their universal aspects and potential strategic reach. “We will focus on cases that are representative of deep injustices and disparities in our criminal legal system,” she says. “We don’t just get clients out of prison; we use the clinic as a launching pad for broader advocacy and empirical research.”
Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2021 here.
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