A team of Bodman PLC attorneys led by Pro Bono Counsel Kimberly Paulson recently took on a project that literally gave a man the rest of his life back.
Melvin grew up in a bad neighborhood and ran with the wrong crowd. He was a drug addict at the age of 15 and began selling drugs at the age of 18. After several non-violent criminal convictions, at age 30, police raided his apartment and arrested him after finding cocaine and drug paraphernalia but, notably, no weapons. Despite being a non-violent, low-level dealer, and with no weapons in his possession, Melvin was sentenced to mandatory life in prison 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.
The Bodman team sat through hours of training, wrangled with authorities to obtain important records, engaged in several client interviews, and performed the analysis needed to determine whether Melvin met the standards of CP2014. After two rounds of modifications, the CP2014 screening committee accepted Bodman’s analysis of the case and approved Melvin to move to the next phase – preparation of the petition for commutation of sentence.
With Kim taking the lead in the case, and significant assistance by Alex Markel, the Bodman team compiled a 180-page application and submitted it to the federal Office of the Pardon Attorney on September 8, 2016. As the weeks passed and President Obama’s final term neared its end, Kim worried whether he would be able to consider Melvin’s application. As of January 2017, there were 7,881 commutation petitions pending. 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 until the age of 44. He will have served 14 years in prison, a term more commensurate with his offense.
For the first time in twelve years, Melvin can look forward to a brighter future. He cannot wait to spend time with the mother and sisters, who always stood by him. Melvin plans to work with at-risk youth to help deter them from the decision and ultimate path he took many years ago.
Kim believes 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 inform Melvin that his petition had been granted, a moment they will never forget.