President Obama to Release 22 Drug Offenders as Part of Clemency Push

President Obama speaks to members of the press in the Oval Office before signing a Memorandum of Disapproval regarding a joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of a rule submitted by the National Labor Relations Board relating to representation case procedures Tuesday. (Photo: Win McNamee)
President Obama speaks to members of the press in the Oval Office before signing a Memorandum of Disapproval regarding a joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval of a rule submitted by the National Labor Relations Board relating to representation case procedures Tuesday.
(Photo: Win McNamee)

President Obama commuted the sentences of 22 convicted federal prisoners Tuesday, shortening their sentences for drug-related crimes.

Eight of the prisoners who will have their sentences reduced were serving life sentences. All but one of the 22 will be released on July 28.

The White House said Obama made the move in order to grant to older prisoners the same leniency that would be given to people convicted of the same crimes today.

“Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement. “Because many were convicted under an outdated sentencing regime, they served years—in some cases more than a decade—longer than individuals convicted today of the same crime.”

In issuing the commutations Tuesday, Obama has more than doubled the number he’s granted in his presidency. Before Tuesday, he had issued just 21 and denied 782 commutations in his more than six years. It was the most commutations issued by a president in a single day since President Clinton issued 150 pardons and 40 commutations on his last day in office.

And it could represent the crest of a new wave of commutations that could come in Obama’s last two years in office. Last year, the Justice Department announced a new clemency initiative to try to encourage more low-level drug offenders to apply to have their sentences reduced. That resulted in a record 6,561 applications in the last fiscal year, at least two of which were granted commutations Tuesday, according to the Justice Department.

Obama has been increasingly vocal about his intent to use his constitutional clemency powers more aggressively in his last two years as president. The constitution gives the president the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States,” which includes the power to shorten sentences for those convicted of federal crimes.

“One of the extraordinary powers that a president has is the power to commute sentences or to pardon somebody who’s already been sentenced,” Obama said in South Carolina in early March.

“A lot of what we’re focused on is non-violent drug offenses where somebody might have gotten 25 years, and she was the girlfriend of somebody and somehow got caught up, and since then has led an exemplary life, but now really wants to be able to start a new career or something like that,” Obama said. “That’s the kind of person, typically, that would get through the process.”

Take the case of Tracy Lynn Petty, a 46-year-old North Carolina woman convicted of cocaine possession in 2006.

“I have done 10 years and four months. I am so sorry and have had time to think about all my actions in life,” she wrote in a handwritten letter placed in her court file in February. She said she’s taken landscape management classes in prison, and has been allowed outside the gates to work on the prison grounds for eight years.

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SOURCE: USA Today – Gregory Korte

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