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Sculpture by Hank Willis Thomas.
Photo by Brynn Anderson/AP.

Criminal Justice

Petitioning for Clemency

The firm sought executive clemency on behalf of individuals who received sentences that are unfair under current sentencing laws and practices.


“Andrea” is a sex-trafficking and child-abuse survivor seeking a pardon from Governor Murphy for a conviction she received when she was only 16 years old. Andrea’s conviction arose from an encounter during which she killed one of her sex traffickers, “Jim,” a 70-year-old man who forced Andrea to engage in sex acts in exchange for shelter while he accepted money from the state to house her.

Andrea’s history of physical and sexual abuse by her caretakers began when she was an infant and persisted throughout her childhood. She was repeatedly removed from family members’ custody and placed in foster care by the agency then known as the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). She was then sexually assaulted while in foster care and ran away multiple times because she felt safer living on the streets. DYFS was aware that Andrea suffered serious psychiatric conditions as a result of severe and repeated childhood trauma, but it failed to provide her recommended treatment or a safe place to live.

Andrea and her godson
“Andrea” and her godson
Photo by Bernard DeLierre

Jim found Andrea when she was 16 years old and living on the streets. At that time, DYFS had determined that there was nothing more the agency could do for Andrea, so it paid Jim—a stranger who was 54 years her senior—to allow Andrea to stay in his apartment in an “independent living arrangement.” Jim’s own family reported that he had a history of violence and sexually inappropriate behavior, but DYFS did not vet him, and the New Jersey Family Court ordered Andrea to live with him even though a neighbor had reported to the police and DYFS that Jim was physically abusing and sexually exploiting her.

One day, the abuse became too much for Andrea. During a fight, she killed Jim in self-defense and immediately turned herself in to the police, expressing remorse. Despite Andrea’s strong legal defenses and significant mitigating factors (her age, impaired mental state, long history of child abuse and sex trafficking, and lack of prior criminal history), Andrea was transferred from juvenile court to adult court, convicted, and sentenced to 30 years without parole at the infamous Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, where guards habitually abused female inmates.

Years later, an appeals court reversed her sentence, and Andrea was released on parole. She then began a long journey to safety and recovery. She is now 44 years old and spends most of her time working and doting on her grand-nieces and rescue dogs. The firm seeks an executive pardon on Andrea’s behalf because she deserves an opportunity to rebuild her life without the stigma and collateral consequences attendant to a homicide conviction.

Andrea’s case is part of an ongoing reform effort. The juvenile and criminal justice systems in New Jersey have markedly evolved since Andrea was convicted 27 years ago. Today, highly traumatized young people like Andrea, with substantial mitigating factors, are more likely to remain in the rehabilitative juvenile system instead of ending up in adult criminal court and violent prisons. Moreover, survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation have defenses and legal remedies against their abusers that simply were not available when Andrea was convicted in 1994.

On a national level too, society has begun to reevaluate how we treat victims of sex trafficking who have been held responsible for the deaths of their abusers. Through both legislation and executive clemency, states are relieving trafficking suvivors of the stigma of their convictions. Such measures not only result in justice for victims of sexual violence but also send a powerful message to our community at large, including the countless children and women enduring similar trauma—that we stand with and for survivors, and we choose mercy and healing over punishment.


The firm also represents “Kyle” in his petition for gubernatorial clemency stemming from a decades-old marijuana arrest—Kyle’s only encounter with the criminal justice sytem. Kyle was born in Trinidad and Tobago and has lived in the United States since he was nine years old (he is now 46).

Kyle is deeply embedded in his local community. He is an appointed member of his township’s Civil Rights Commission and an active member of several charitable and civic organizations, including the NAACP, his neighborhood development corporation, the Poor People’s Campaign, UndocuBlack Leadership Council, his township’s community pre-K, and his local church. In a true testimony to Kyle’s character, the same police officer who arrested him 17 years ago has written a letter endorsing his clemency petition.

This arrest has prevented Kyle from becoming a lawful permanent resident, and his lack of immigration status has created significant obstacles for him. He is a college graduate with a degree in psychology but has been unable to find consistent and lawful employment. He is a caregiver to his mother but cannot earn a proper living wage.

While gubernatorial clemency may not fix all of Kyle’s federal immigration challenges, the forgiveness it comes with will help heal a decades-old wound and will spotlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform that enables contributing members of society to remain lawfully in their adopted home.

Photo by Bernard DeLierre