Case Study
August 2, 2017

Liberty and Justice for All

Kenneth Kemp was facing life in prison without the possibility of parole after his 1994 conviction on non-violent drug charges. After Kemp had already spent 22 years in prison, a Goodwin team of pro bono lawyers took on his case and successfully obtained an order of clemency from President Obama.


In 1992, Kemp was indicted on federal charges of an alleged conspiracy to traffic crack cocaine from the city of Norfolk, Va., to New York. After a six-day trial at the end of 1993, the jury found Kemp guilty. He was given four life sentences without the possibility of parole.


Goodwin lawyers quickly went back over Kemp’s case, sifting through evidence surrounding his arrest, reviewing court transcripts, researching the clemency process and soliciting letters of support from friends and family.

While they knew clemency was a longshot, the Goodwin team persisted and remained optimistic, particularly in light of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the judicial disparity between cocaine powder and crack. They would argue that Kemp’s four life sentences without possibility of parole amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.


In May of 2016, Kemp received word that Obama had granted his request for clemency. “Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity,” President Obama wrote. “By doing so, you will affect not only your own life, but those close to you. You will also influence, through your example, the possibility that others in your circumstances get their own second chance in the future.” Less than a month later, Kemp walked out of prison a free man. “I always had hope,” he said nearly a year after his release. “It’s what can happen when you have God and a good lawyer.”