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PRO BONO PORTRAIT | Man Serving Life In Prison Granted Clemency

Bodman's Pro Bono Attorneys Help Non-Violent Offender Get His Life Back

By: Bodman PLC

05/09/17

A team of Bodman PLC attorneys led by Pro Bono Counsel Kimberly Paulson recently obtained clemency for the firm’s client – a man serving life in prison.

Melvin grew up in a bad neighborhood and ran with the wrong crowd, collecting a string of non-violent arrests.  He was a drug addict at 15 and selling at 18.  After a raid on his apartment, he was convicted of dealing cocaine.  Despite being a non-violent, low-level dealer and possessing no weapons, Melvin was sentenced to mandatory life in prison solely because his apartment was located less than 1000 feet from a school.

In prison, Melvin got (and stayed) clean, worked toward a GED, and exhibited good behavior.  In 2014, when President Obama announced a clemency initiative focused on commuting the sentences of low-level, non-violent drug offenders sentenced under now amended harsh sentencing guidelines, Melvin asked The Clemency Project 2014 (“CP2014”) to help. CP2014 referred him to Bodman.

For over a year, the Bodman team obtained documentation, analyzed statutes and sentencing guidelines, and gathered facts, finally convincing CP2014 that Melvin was a good candidate for clemency.

With Kim taking the lead, the team compiled a 180-page application and submitted it to the federal Office of the Pardon Attorney on September 8, 2016.  With the clock almost down to zero, on January 19, 2017, President Obama’s last full day in office, Kim received a call from the Office of the Pardon Attorney informing her that the President had granted Melvin’s petition that day!  The terms of the grant are stringent, requiring Melvin to spend two more years in prison while he undergoes intensive residential drug treatment. If he completes that process, he will be released from prison on January 19, 2019 at 44 years old but still subject to supervision.  He will have served 14 years in prison, a term more commensurate with his offense. 

For the first time in twelve years, Melvin has a future to which he can look forward.  He can’t wait to spend time with his mother and sisters, who have stood by him, and work with at-risk youth to deter them from the path he took.

Kim says that Melvin’s case was probably her most personally moving and satisfying professional achievement.  The Pardon Attorney and prison administration allowed her and other members of the Bodman team to tell Melvin the good news, a moment they will never forget.

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