Clinic students help federal prisoner win commutation of lengthy sentence

Clinic students help federal prisoner win commutation of lengthy sentence

General Practice Clinic students in the University of Maine School of Law’s Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic helped federal prisoner Ronald Evans file a Petition for Commutation of Sentence. This Petition was granted by President Barack Obama.

In 2002, Ronald Evans was arrested in Brewer, Maine, after police found 17 ‘baggy corners’ containing crack cocaine on him. The total weight of the drugs was 6.4 grams – that is, less than one-quarter of an ounce. Ronald, an addict who sold on the street to support his habit, was charged with possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of crack cocaine.

Ronald pled guilty to the charge. He was 22 years old at the time and had two prior drug felony convictions on his record. As a result, under federal law he was considered a “career offender.” This meant he received a sentence of 22 years, instead of the five-year sentence he would have received without this designation.

Although federal sentencing law changed over the years since Ronald’s conviction, bringing penalties for crimes involving crack cocaine more in line with those for powder cocaine, Ronald could not receive any sentence reduction because of his career offender status. His appeals and post-conviction motions were unsuccessful. Ronald, the child of drug-addicted parents who had himself started abusing drugs at age ten, began the hard task of turning his life around in prison. He completed drug rehabilitation and obtained his GED.

Students in the General Practice Clinic helped Ronald file a Petition for Commutation of Sentence. The odds were not in his favor; Ronald was one of nearly 12,000 inmates asking for commutation. On August 3, 2016, President Barack Obama granted Ronald’s Petition, making Ronald one of only 562 inmates whose sentences were commuted during the Obama administration up to that point. President Obama wrote to Ronald: “I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong, and change your life for the better.” Ronald will be released after completing a residential drug treatment program, and will return to his family more than four years earlier than he would have without the commutation.

Student attorneys in Maine Law’s General Practice Clinic take on a wide range of case types from criminal defense to family law to consumer law. They interview and counsel clients, develop case theories, conduct discovery, negotiate with opposing parties, prepare cases for court, and conduct hearings, trials and appeals. Students regularly brief and argue cases before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and participate in hundreds of matters before Maine’s federal, state and probate courts, and administrative agencies. The student attorneys who worked on Ronald’s case were: Alex Beinstein ’15; Jacob Bowie ’15; Duncan Edgar ’14; Kaitlyn Husar ’15; Mariah Mitchell ’14; and Annie Stevens ’16.