Press Release

Ballard Spahr Lawyers Secure Commutation for Pro Bono Client

January 21, 2021

Ballard Spahr lawyers Matthew A. Morr and Mudasar Khan secured a presidential commutation for pro bono client Robert Francis, who received a harsher prison sentence after exercising his constitutional right to a trial instead of accepting a plea bargain. He was released yesterday after serving 19 years of a life sentence.

In what is known as a “trial penalty,” Mr. Francis received a life sentence after being convicted of a nonviolent drug conspiracy crime. Before trial, the prosecution offered him a 25- to 30-year sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. But when Mr. Francis opted for a trial, the prosecution then held him accountable for greater drug weights and successfully argued for two sentencing enhancements. Had he accepted the government’s plea offer, Mr. Francis would have been close to being released, based on his spotless disciplinary record and active learning and rehabilitation efforts.

He was one of 70 people to receive a commutation from President Donald J. Trump on his final day in office, separate from his widely publicized pardons, a different form of clemency. Mr. Francis was released yesterday and will live with his sister in Houston, Texas.

“I feel fortunate to have worked with Mo Khan on this important matter, which resulted in such an incredible result for Mr. Francis,” said Mr. Morr. “Mo contributed considerable time reviewing the trial court record and Mr. Francis’s spotless disciplinary history in preparing an excellent petition for clemency. Speaking with Mr. Francis this morning about how he woke up and was able to look out a window and be free—clearly, it was time well spent.”

Mr. Francis’s case was referred to Ballard Spahr through the Trial Penalty Clemency Project of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). The firm has a long history of working with the NACDL, specifically through Clemency Project 2014—a U.S. Department of Justice initiative that engaged the private bar to help screen and grant clemency petitions for non-violent offenders. Ballard Spahr secured clemency for 29 imprisoned people through this program.

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