July 18, 2019

July 18, 2019
Contact: Melissa Mansfield (mmansfield@skdknick.com) 518.339.7769


Led by Formerly Incarcerated New Yorker & Clemency Recipient,
NYUJ Announces Campaign for Expanded Use of Executive Clemency in New York;
Launches with Video Testimonials & Letter to the Governor 

NEW YORK, NY – Following a legislative session marked by historic criminal justice reforms, New Yorkers United for Justice (NYUJ) announced the launch of a campaign to take the group’s long-term, 360-degree approach to systemic change for the state’s criminal justice system to encourage Governor Cuomo to expand the use of his executive clemency power to grant commutations and pardons to deserving New Yorkers. Led by Khalil A. Cumberbatch—a recipient of clemency given by Governor Cuomo—and Topeka K. Sam, the NYUJ coalition marked the start of its campaign with the release of an ongoing series of video testimonials demonstrating the impact of state and federal clemency, a fact sheet on clemency, and a direct letter appeal to Governor Cuomo urging him to address the nearly 100 clemency applications submitted to the executive office as a result of the Governor’s pledge “to ensure that clemency is a more accessible and tangible reality.”

“The legislative session may have ended but the fight to make New York a safer, fairer, and more just state is just beginning. Governor Cuomo has been a steadfast ally in the criminal justice reform movement, and the campaign we’re launching today serves as a direct appeal to use every tool at his disposal to carry the movement forward,” said Khalil A. Cumberbatchchief strategist, New Yorkers United for Justice. “I know from personal experience the effect that can have, not just on an individual or family, but on a whole community. Clemency represents the fulfillment of a basic precept: Whoever Saves a Life Saves the World.”

Executive clemency is a power vested in Governor Cuomo by the New York State Constitution to provide relief to those convicted of a criminal offense. It can take the form of commutations and pardons. In the letter to Governor Cuomo, the NYUJ coalition points to the executive office’s ongoing collaboration with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)/FAMM State Clemency Project to recruit, train, and support pro bono attorneys to screen prisoner applications, which has already produced a list of 95 worthy clemency petitions. The letter notes that while the program should serve as a national model, its “continued success hinges upon your willingness to grant commutation applications on a sustained and regular basis. NYUJ urges you to do this and pledges to provide continued support for these efforts.”

“At its core, our criminal justice system is built on a belief that second chances, rehabilitation and redemption are always possible,” said Topeka K. Sam, senior advisor, New Yorkers United for Justice. “Executive clemency is a reaffirmation of this belief, offering individuals a chance to rebuild themselves and become productive and contributing members of our society. I thank Governor Cuomo for his efforts on behalf of criminal justice reform and urge him to take this opportunity to demonstrate New York’s firm belief in the redemptive quality of true justice.”

Among those featured in the first set of testimonials are Anthony Papa, who received a 15-years-to-life sentence for a first-time nonviolent drug offense, the first person in the history of New York State receive clemency under two administrations and used his second chance to become an activist to change New York’s punitive drug laws. Also featured is Dominic Dupont, who, before being granted executive clemency by Governor Cuomo, led the Alternative to Violence Project and the Prisons for Aids Counseling Education, and has used his release to carry forward his mission of redemption.

The letter to the Governor is included below, and videos can be seen at www.nyuj.org.


Dear Governor Cuomo,

We write on behalf of New Yorkers United for Justice (NYUJ) to encourage you to exercise robustly your clemency authority. NYUJ is a coalition of major national and state organizations, reflecting a broad consensus in support of long-overdue criminal justice reform. In this regard, we applaud the major legislation already enacted to address such core concerns as discovery and bail reform and strengthening speedy trial rights. Another major area in which you have the unique power to make a difference is the exercise of the clemency power.

We applaud you for the initiatives you have already launched in this regard but believe there are many more deserving individuals who should be considered for pardons and commutations. Formerly convicted individuals who have returned to society and remained crime free for a significant period should routinely be considered for pardons to eliminate the pervasive collateral consequences that limit opportunity and subject individuals to lifelong debarments and disabilities. And, of course, for non-citizen, lawful residents who have suffered a conviction, there is a continued risk they may be subjected to removal proceeding. A pardon can end that risk and alleviate the prospect of ripping families apart.

Equally deserving of the mercy dispensing power of clemency are long-serving inmates, whose institutional record suggests that they can be returned to the community without any significant risk to public safety. You and your administration clearly recognized this fact when you first announced a clemency initiative in 2015. And you underscored your commitment in August 2017 when you announced a first of its kind partnership with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and FAMM State Clemency Project. Both of those organizations, NACDL and FAMM (formerly Families Against Mandatory Minimums), are also members of NYUJ. At the behest of your administration, that project has recruited more than 200 attorneys from a wide range of large and small firms, law clinics, and solo practitioners.

The Project has devoted tens of thousands of pro bono hours to answer your call for volunteer assistance. This army of lawyers has screened more than 500 cases and has thus far submitted 95 petitions. Many cases are still pending review.

One reason why this program has been so successful has been the extraordinary cooperation provided by the Executive Chamber, the Executive Clemency Bureau, Commissioner Annucci, and the staff at the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. This collaboration between your administration and a cadre of volunteers is an achievement which should be a source of great pride for you and all New Yorkers. It can also serve as a model for the entire nation. But its continued success hinges upon your willingness to grant commutation applications on a sustained and regular basis. NYUJ urges you to do this and pledges to provide continued support for these efforts.


  • Alliance for Safety and Justice
  • Brennan Center
  • #Cut50
  • FAMM
  • FreedomWorks Foundation
  • Hispanic Federation
  • NAACP New York State Conference
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • National Urban League
  • New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • New York Urban League
  • REFORM Alliance