In 1989, Serena Nunn was convicted by a jury in federal court in Minnesota of criminal charges related to a conspiracy to distribute cocaine. At her sentencing hearing, United States District Court Judge David Doty told Ms. Nunn that his heart went out to her because of the lengthy sentence that he was required to impose on her under the then-mandatory Sentencing Guidelines. She received a 16-year sentence without the possibility of parole, despite her age at the time of arrest (19 years old), her subordinate role in the offense vis-à-vis her boyfriend, and her status as a first-time, non-violent offender.
In 1997, one week after being sworn into the California Bar, Quinn Emanuel partner Sam Sheldon met with Ms. Nunn and agreed to represent her pro bono regarding her request for a presidential commutation of sentence. President Clinton then commuted her sentence in 2000, after she served 11 years in federal prison. Ms. Nunn’s commutation was strongly supported by Judge Doty as well as the then-Minnesota Governor and Minnesota Attorney General.
Following her release from prison, Ms. Nunn graduated college from Arizona State and then law school from the University of Michigan. Both President Clinton and Judge Doty wrote letters of support for her admission to law school. Ms. Nunn is currently a state public defender in Atlanta, GA.
Quinn Emanuel then represented Ms. Nunn pro bono with her petition for a presidential pardon. On December 19, 2016, President Obama granted Ms. Nunn a pardon.
Very few people leave federal prison and are able to accomplish what Ms. Nunn has in life—obtaining a bachelors and juris doctorate degrees and going on to become a state public defender. In the past 70 years, there have been only three known federal prisoners that have received both a presidential commutation of sentence and a presidential pardon, and Quinn Emanuel is extremely proud to have now represented one of them.