GW Law Clinic Team Gains Presidential Clemency for Client

D.C. man imprisoned for more than 20 years returns home after assistance from Neighborhood Law and Policy Clinic.

GW Law Clinic Team Gains Presidential Clemency for Client
GW Law Clinic Director Jessica Steinberg, third year law students Bart Sheard and Courtney Francik, and Visiting Associate Professor of Law and Friedman Fellow Mira Edmonds worked on Rudolph Norris' case.
August 17, 2015

Rudolph Norris, a D.C. native who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in the early 1990s for selling crack cocaine, had his sentence commuted by President Obama—with big assistance from a GW Law clinic.

Mr. Norris returned to the D.C. area in late July carrying with him a letter from President Obama notifying him of the commutation. 

"I am completely at a loss for words to fully express my gratitude to President Obama for granting my request for commutation of my sentence and for giving me a second chance at a long delayed life," Mr. Norris said. "I truly feel like the chains that I have been wearing for a long time have suddenly been released. These chains restrained me from moving fully to a positive life as a worthwhile and contributing member of society.”

GW Law’s Neighborhood Law and Policy Clinic—one of the Jacob Burns Community Legal Clinics—submitted Mr. Norris's clemency petition in response to President Obama's initiative that aims to commute the sentences of non-violent drug offenders who would receive substantially lower sentences if they were charged today. The Obama Administration has granted only 30 commutations since announcing the program last April.

Mr. Norris was one of 22 federal inmates released July 28, according to the New York Times. He said he is “eternally indebted” to the GW Law team who helped secure his release from a federal prison in West Virginia.

"I am eternally indebted to the dedicated team of students and lawyers at the George Washington University Law School for their countless hours of hard work on my behalf, and the unbelievably perfect work product they created to persuade President Obama to grant me this new lease on life,” Mr. Norris said.

“As I navigate my way back to society and a productive life, one of the first and foremost thoughts in my mind will be my commitment to prove to President Obama and the GW Law team that their faith in me was not at all misplaced.”

GW Law students Courtney Francik and Bart Sheard worked on Mr. Norris' case under the supervision of Mira Edmonds, a Friedman Fellow, and Associate Professor of Clinical Law and Clinic Director Jessica Steinberg.

"His case highlights the urgent need for executive review of unduly harsh sentences for low-level drug offenders, particularly for individuals like him who have demonstrated true rehabilitation while incarcerated,” Ms. Steinberg said. “Courtney Francik and Bart Sheard, together with Friedman Fellow Mira Edmonds performed exceptional legal work on this case. They worked countless hours on Mr. Norris' petition, delving into the particulars of federal sentencing and poring over prison records in order to make the case for clemency.

“Their efforts in securing Mr. Norris his freedom are a true testament to the power of hard work and dedication in achieving justice."

The Neighborhood Law and Policy Clinic will petition President Obama for Clemency on behalf of two more clients in the fall.