On June 3, 2016, Robert Sleepers received the phone call he had thought about for the past 12 years. Sentenced in June 2004 to a mandatory minimum of 20 years for his role in a non-violent, relatively low-level conspiracy to distribute cocaine, Sleepers admittedly broke the law, but his punishment far exceeded his crime.
For more than 12 years, Sleepers had limited contact with the tight-knit family that supported him throughout his incarceration. He and his family members relied on letters, rare visits, and telephone calls to maintain their tight family bond. On holidays his family members would gather around the phone in one central location to allow each of them to speak with the father and brother they had all missed over the past decade. However, the June 2016 phone call brought news that would change future holidays for Sleepers and his family.
The call was from Jamie Waldon, J.D. ‘15—a former student in Professor Mark Osler’s Federal Commutations Clinic and current attorney with the Clemency Resource Center—the attorney representing Sleepers on his petition for commutation of his sentence. Waldon was calling with the incredible news that President Barack Obama had granted Sleepers’ commutation petition, which shaved more than four years from his sentence and provided him with a new release date of Oct. 1, 2016.
Sleepers’ case is not unique—there are thousands of individuals serving grossly excessive mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenses. However, with the dedication of advocates like Osler, his clinical students at St. Thomas Law, and attorneys like those at the Clemency Resource Center, Sleepers will hopefully be only one of many who finally receive justice. Thankfully, those holiday calls with Sleepers’ family gathered around the phone will be replaced with the hugs and kisses they have all longed for.
Waldon and fellow grad Eric Hylok, J.D. '15, are among the seven attorneys that were recruited to staff the Clemency Resource Center, a pro-bono, pop-up law office that exclusively prepares petitions for federal clemency. The Center is the project of Osler and New York University law professor Rachel Barkow, and is housed at NYU.
A complete list of all clemency grantees is available on the Office of the Pardon Attorney website.