UCI Law Pro Bono Clemency Project Success

Nov. 3, 2016

UCI Law’s pro bono efforts, along with Clemency Project 2014, aided in last week’s successful grant of clemency from President Obama to Robert Sedillo Gutierrez.

Mr. Gutierrez is one of 98 federal prisoners President Obama granted clemency to on Thursday, October 28, 2016. Many of the prisoners received harsh sentences under mandatory minimum drug laws that critics say target communities of color.

Last Spring, UCI Law students and faculty members began taking on pro bono cases with Clemency Project 2014. Clemency Project 2014 is a working group composed of lawyers and advocates including the Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. It was launched after Deputy Attorney General James Cole asked the legal profession to provide pro bono (free) assistance to federal prisoners who would likely have received a shorter sentence if they had been sentenced today.

With the assistance of Clemency Project 2014, UCI Law Professor L. Song Richardson and recent UCI Law alum Kevin Lerman (’16) filed a request for clemency for Mr. Gutierrez, who was 64 years old when arrested in a New Mexico drug case, and was subsequently sentenced to 30 years. The law has changed since Mr. Gutierrez's conviction, and he would receive a much shorter sentence if sentenced today. The petition spelled out the legal reasons Mr. Gutierrez should receive relief from the 30-year sentence, as well as compelling humanitarian reasons for his release. Mr. Gutierrez was convicted for a nonviolent drug offense, and would have likely died in prison had he been forced to stay for the duration of the original sentence. While Mr. Gutierrez will not get out immediately, the clemency grant reduced his sentence by 12 1/2 years.

“I'm very happy we could help Mr. Gutierrez, and I'm grateful for the UCI professors, staff, and law students who made the project happen as well as the dedicated Clemency Project 2014 working group,” Lerman said. “Mr. Gutierrez is looking forward to spending time with his children and grandchildren when he is released.” 

“Without the hard work and dedication of Mr. Lerman and other UCI Law students, Mr. Gutierrez would likely have died in prison,” said UCI Law Professor L. Song Richardson. “We are very proud of their efforts.”

Read Washington Post article about President Obama’s commutations >

Press Release by the Clemency Project 2014 >

About UC Irvine School of Law

Ranked No. 4 overall in the National Jurist 2016 list of Best Schools for Practical Training, and No. 2, behind Yale, for the ratio of clinic positions, UCI Law is a visionary law school focused on training talented and passionate lawyers and driven by professional excellence, intellectual rigor, and a commitment to enrich our communities through public service. UCI Law is a collegial environment, and our faculty comprises accomplished, nationally ranked thought leaders from around the country with a broad range of expertise. In the 2015 study by University of St. Thomas School of Law, the UCI Law faculty ranked No. 6 in the nation in scholarly impact. More about the Law School is available at law.uci.edu.

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