President Obama Commutes Sentence of Criminal Justice Clinic Client

On October 27, 2016, President Barack Obama commuted the life sentence of Alberto Lopez, a client of the Samuel Jacobs Criminal Justice Clinic at Yale Law School.

Lopez has been in federal prison since 1996 as the result of a nonviolent drug offense. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole under now antiquated laws. Had he been sentenced under today’s laws, however, he would have been released years ago.

“It’s such a relief,” said April Hu ’17, a third-year law student work working on Lopez’s case. “When we submitted the petition, we hoped that people would see Lopez for the extraordinary person that he is, and realize that life in prison was a profoundly unjust sentence.”

“Mr. Lopez is one of over ten thousand people seeking clemency from the president, many of whom have spent decades in prison because of drug laws that Congress has since changed but failed to make retroactive,” added Theo Torres ’18, a second-year law student who began work on Mr. Lopez’s case this year. “We hope that the president uses the last few months of his term to continue correcting these injustices.”

Avinash Samarth ’16, a graduate of the law school who was one of the authors of Mr. Lopez’s clemency petition said, “Mr. Lopez built a stellar record in federal prison as a mentor, pastor, and worker. He is well-loved by many, and we celebrate President Obama’s decision to let him come home.”

The Samuel Jacobs Criminal Justice Clinic provides hands-on experience to students seeking to work in criminal law. First-semester clinic students directly represent clients at the trial level in New Haven state courts. Advanced students work on a variety of sentencing projects, including federal clemency cases. Another clinic client, Jamal Hanson, received clemency in May of this year. The team has one final client awaiting word from the White House.