Monday, July 27, 2015

John Oliver on Mandatory Minimums


Morison: Clemency Rhetoric v. Reality

Sam Morison
At The Hill, Sam Morison - a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C., and former staff attorney in the DOJ's Office of the Pardon Attorney addresses the "deep concern" of Rep. Bob Goodlatte and 18 other Republicans that President Obama is using the pardon power "to benefit specific classes of offenders, or for political purposes.” The use of the pardon power “to benefit an entire class of offenders who were duly convicted in a court of law.” Goodlatte and his pals assert that this is “plainly unconstitutional.”

Morison, however, notes this claim is "illiterate" - at best - since "throughout American history, presidents have granted executive clemency to 'specific classes of offenders' on dozens of occasions, from George Washington’s pardon of the Whiskey Rebels in 1795 to George H.W. Bush’s pardon of the Iran-Contra defendants in 1992."

More relevant to Obama's recent commutations of 46 drug law offenders, Morison adds:
... in the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson commuted the sentences of several hundred prisoners serving mandatory minimum sentences under the Narcotics Control Act of 1956, without objection by Congress. 
The less dramatic, and far more reaction to Obama's commutations would be guided by this understanding:
...Under our tripartite system of government, an act of executive clemency in no sense “usurps” legislative or judicial authority.. it “is a part of the Constitutional scheme. When granted it is the determination of the ultimate [executive] authority that the public welfare will be better served by inflicting less than what the judgment fixed.” ... Indeed, that was the Framers’ point in giving the power to the President in the first place, to act as a check on the other branches.  
Morison concludes there is "no reason to doubt" President Obama "can grant clemency because of his own policy judgment about a particular law."  Indeed, "the President’s power is beyond dispute." See full editorial here.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Commutations for "Classes of Persons"

If you follow the news, you know one exceptionally ignorant response to President Obama's recent commutations of sentence has been to claim - with zero evidence - that the pardon power was given to the president of the United States to be exercised in individual cases, and not with respect to "classes of offenders." Amnesties (which identify classes of offenders) are, of course, a great American tradition dating back to George Washington. One has to really work hard not to be aware of that.

A variation of the "argument" is to say, yes, amnesties are acceptable, and a steady feature of our history BUT they should only be used in exceptional circumstances, like the Civil War, World War I or World War II. This approach is at least less offensive to the senses. Many amnesties that have originated from the executive branch have focused on draft evasion and violation of various war time laws.

Notably, presidents have often granted individual commutations of sentence to classes of persons before those more well known amnesties. On March 3 and April 22, 1919, Woodrow Wilson commuted the sentences of 51 and 49 persons respectively, most of whom violated Espionage laws. On December 23, 1921 and June 19, 1923, Warren Harding granted 23 and 44 commutations of sentence mostly to persons who violated the selective service laws

On the other hand, the Whiskey Rebellion and Shays's Rebellion were not nearly as dramatic as they sound. One amnesty simply rewarded pirates for helping us out in the War of 1812. Mormons were also granted an amnesty for the practice of polygamy. Earthquakes are not a necessary prelude to amnesties, or the individual pardon of classes of persons.

President Obama is being criticized because his recent commutations recipients were drug offenders. To release them, the argument goes, is to "in effect" (in political rhetoric, very often code for "not really") usurp Congress and render legislation void, blah, blah, blah. These have always been the things people say when checks and balances don't go their way. In fact, Obama's commutation fit very nicely into the historical use of the pardon power.

On December 4, 1896, for example, Grover Cleveland commuted the sentences of 46 persons convicted of cutting timber on government property. They all violated a law that Congress wrote.

On June 6, 1903, Theodore Roosevelt commuted 24 sentences. Most were granted to persons who were given mandatory minimum sentenced for horse theft. One stole a horse and a saddle. Another stole a mule. One a cow. Roosevelt thought the sentences, created by Congress and applied by the judiciary, were not fair, proportionate, just.

On June 10, 1910, William Howard Taft commuted the sentences of 17 persons, most of whom made illegal sales of alcohol to Indians.

On January 7, 1932, Herbert Hoover commuted the sentences of 25 persons all convicted of the same crime - illegally entering the country.

Pardoning classes of persons, a great American tradition. By the thousands, the dozens, or just one at a time!


Friday, July 24, 2015

Oh Yeah ... and THAT !

In today's Baltimore Sun, David W. Ogden (former deputy attorney general of the United States), Kelly P. Dunbar and Jessica B. Leinwand, attorneys at Wilmer Hale LLP write a letter re President Obama's commutation of the life sentence of Norman O'Neal Brown. Even Brown's sentencing judge thought the mandatory sentence he had to impose was "disproportionate." Twenty four years later, the Sun concluded that the life sentence did not make "sense."

Brown's lawyers agree, of course, but add:
... the editorial missed an important — indeed, the crucial — part of why Mr. Brown was deserving of commutation. Put simply, Mr. Brown has transformed his life. Facing life imprisonment with no possibility of parole in his early 20s, Mr. Brown nonetheless dedicated his life to helping others, by mentoring younger inmates and steering them away from lives of crime. He never received a disciplinary violation in his decades in prison. He created and led various prison support groups and he took it upon himself to work with young men coming into prison. Prison staff praised Mr. Brown as a "model prisoner." Upon his release, Mr. Brown hopes to work with underprivileged youth in his community — in particular, to help persuade young men not to engage in crime. He has made it his life's mission to help others avoid the tragic mistakes he made as a young man.
Yes, easy to see how those kinds of details would be missed. See full letter here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bill O'Reilly: Jackass Mode

In his talking points memo for July 20, 2012, Bill O'Reilly's writers feign an attempt at "investigating" President Obama's recent commutations of sentence. See video here.

At 0:18 O'Reilly says "apparently Mr. Obama believe the justice system is biased against minority individuals, especially in drug cases." Being uncertain as to whether or not Mr. O'Reilly's sarcasm has out run his intelligence, we can only add that this "belief" is well-documented in decades of rigorous statistical analysis. One would be hard pressed to find anyone with half a brain who would deny it. Debate has always centered around proximate causes and potential for reform, but not the basic fact.

At 0:28 O'Reilly states that he "firmly believes" that "selling hard drugs is a violent crime." Of course the "firm" nature of his belief has no bearing on its validity, much less its relevance to the world of law. Equivocating on the word "violence," especially in such a serious context, is something that every American should be concerned about, wary of - unless your end all measure of successful government is exploding prison populations and longer sentences for everyone. Probably best to keep a pretty tight reign on what constitutes "violence" in the world of law and courts, silly television programs notwithstanding. Of course, the only thing worse than an accordion like definition of "violence" is attempting to causally connect as many undesirable persons as possible to it, who are clearly, indisputably not directly related - thank God the law has the energy and the intelligence to make such distinctions! As a supposed conservative leaning libertarian, O'Reilly should know better. Next thing you know, he will be calling for a Sarah Palin murder prosecution.

At 0:50 O'Reilly makes his best attempt to smear one recipient of Obama's commutations, Marlon McNealy. Then, after the smear, childishly asks, "Should you feel compassion for Marvin McNealy? You make the call."

Well, O'Reilly's writers are certainly not the only people who can play with pretty blocks. Consider this:
Marlon McNealy has served twenty-two years in federal prison because of a mandatory life sentence he received for drug offenses at the age of 15 and 18. Although raised in an environment where hard drugs were commonplace, McNealy was no "kingpin" in any sense of the language. He was neither prosecuted nor convicted for any violent crime. Unsurprisingly, his behavior in prison over the last two decades was acceptable enough that he was transferred to a medium security prison.
Should anyone feel compassion for Mr. McNealy? You make the call." 
Hat tip to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders for calling O'Reilly's numbskullery to our attention!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Daniel Horowitz: Don't Know Much About History ...

Over at ConservativeReview.com, presidential pardon expert extraordinaire Daniel Horowitz declares:
... Although his policy of pardoning entire classes of offenses, de facto overturning congressional laws, is clearly a violation of the spirit of the pardon power – which was intended to be used with discretion for individuals or for extraordinary times like during the Civil War and Vietnam draft dodging – no court will limit Obama’s pardons no matter how far he takes them.
Mr. Horowitz manipulates quotes from the Federalist papers to bemoan the possibility of a president abusing the pardon power. What he is not so keen to do is thumb around those glorious essays to find Alexander Hamilton's clever observation that criminal codes have an almost natural tendency toward over-severity. And, for that reason, Hamilton said, there should be "easy access" to mercy. That's right "easy access." The kind of thing that must certainly horrify Horowitz. We are guessing he would have been cheering for the hanging of the Whiskey Rebels and participants in Fries' Rebellion back in the day. Indeed, it is easy to imagine him all red-faced, and yelling, "Extraordinary crimes call for extraordinary punishment!"

Washington - July 10 1795, Whiskey Insurrectionists
Adams - May 21 1800, Pennsylvania Insurrectionists (Fries Rebellion)
Jefferson - October 15 1807, Military deserters (if surrendered in 4 months)
Madison - February 7 1812, Military deserters (if surrendered in 4 months)
Madison - October 8 1812, Military deserters (if surrendered in 4 months)
Madison - June 14 1814, Military deserters (if surrendered in 4 months)
Madison - February 6 1815, Pirates participating in War of 1812
Jackson - June 12 1830, Military deserters discharged, those confined released
Buchanan - April 6, 1858, Utah uprising
Lincoln - February 14 1862, Political prisoners paroled
Lincoln - March 10 1863, Military deserters restored with only forfeiture of pay
Lincoln - December 8 1863, “Rebellion” participants (with exceptions) subject to oath
Lincoln - February 26 1864, Military deserters sentences mitigated, restored to duty
Lincoln - March 26 1864, Clarification of December 8, 1863, amnesty
Lincoln - March 11 1865, Military deserters (if returned to post in 60 days)
Johnson - May 29 1865, Certain rebels of Confederate States
Johnson - May 4 1866, Clarification of previous amnesty
Johnson - July 3 1866, Military deserters restored with only forfeiture of pay
Johnson - September 7 1867, Confederates (excepting certain officers) subject to oath
Johnson - July 4 1868, Confederates (except those indicted for treason or felony)
Johnson - December 25 1868, Confederates (universal and unconditional)
Harrison - January 4 1893, Mormons practicing polygamy
Cleveland - September 25 1894, Mormons practicing polygamy
T. Roosevelt - July 4 1902, Philippine insurrectionists, subject to oath
Wilson - June 14 1917 5,000, Persons under suspended sentences
Wilson - August 21 1917, Clarification, reaffirmation of June 14 amnesty
Coolidge - December 15 1923, Espionage Act
Coolidge - March 5 1924, Over 100 military deserters. Restoration of citizenship.
F. Roosevelt - December 23 1933, Over 1,500 who violated Espionage or Draft laws.
Truman - December 24 1945, Thousands of ex-convicts serving at least 1 year in war
Truman - December 23 1947, 1,523 draft evaders (recommended by Amnesty Board)
Truman - December 24 1952, Convicts serving armed forces at least 1 year since 1950
Truman - December 24 1952, Military deserters convicted between 1945 and 1950
Ford - September 16 1974, Vietnam draft evaders. Conditioned on public service
Carter - January 21 1977, Vietnam draft evaders. Unconditional pardon

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mr. President, Choose Wisely!

As President Obama rolls to the end of his second term, he is sporting one of the most miserable records re federal executive clemency in the history of the United States. At present, only eight presidents have granted fewer pardons and commutations of sentence - and most of them didn't even serve two terms. Although Mr. Obama has received over a thousand more applications for commutation of sentence than his four predecessors combined, he has only granted 1 more commutation of sentence than they did. This is clearly not the "hope and change" many  (including the Editor of this blog) were cheering for.

Now what? Where to go? What path will the President choose?

Path 1: The White House continues to tout its "bold" record on commutations, maybe grants a hundred or so more before the ends of the term and that is it. Maybe we get a "Mission Accomplished" speech and/or banner.

* Our assessment: What a gruesome tragedy it would be, were the President to take this path. To raise expectations so high, after so many years of talk, and head fakes. Sickening to even think of this.

Path 2: The President waits a few more months, then commutes a few hundred sentences, then a few hundred more, then maybe a thousand or two, just before the term ends.

* Our assessment: For most of our history, presidents granted pardons and commutations throughout regularly, throughout the term. A month would simply not go by without a grant. THAT is the way the President should address this issue. A regular string of grants (pardons and commutations), every month, every week! from here to the end of the term. The country, and the pardon power, do not need / deserve another hit like Bill Clinton's foolish last-minute pardon bonanza. That kind of thing attaches public suspicion and distrust to the power and unfairly taints the accomplishments of well-deserving recipients. It comes over as a kind of political stunt to avoid political accountability and makes pardoning look like something less than a calm, objective, deliberative process.

Path 3: The President recognizes what has been long known: that there are systemic problems with the clemency process and - for whatever reasons - it does not have the capacity to adequately address thousands of unfair, unjust, excessive prison sentences and/or sentences which are no longer serving any particular public purpose, So, he decides to address the problem himself, with the powers given to him by the Constitution, in a systematic way (has a kind of logical ring to it, does it not?) So, he does what presidents have done more than a few times since George Washington ... he identifies / defines prisoners by categories of conditions and grants a group / general pardon, or an amnesty.

* Our assessment; The criticisms that accrue to last-minute pardoning are not so easily a factor in the matter of an amnesty, even if it is granted late in the term. Amnesties are, by definition, the result of deliberative, but intentionally aggregate thinking. They are an optional form of policy making in the executive branch, a co-equal branch in our system of checks and balances, The intentions and goals of the policy are, of course, what drive the specification of those who benefits from an amnesty. Detractors may disagree with the policy, which is fine. It is our sense, however, that there has never been a better time for a president to take this path. Indeed, there is every reason in this world to think that - after the obligatory showing of asses - support for such an amnesty would be quite strong.

In sum, Path 1 is highly objectionable. Path 2 is barely tolerable, but only because of the pitiful record of presidents over the previous 4-5 decades. Path 3 just makes perfect sense.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Morison: Really Simple. Amnesty.

Sam Morison
Today, at Forbes, Jacob Sullum rocks the world with a piece on pardoning in the Obama administration. Replete with background information and data, Sullum pulled off an impressive trifecta by interviewing former Office of the Pardon Attorney attorney adviser, Sam Morison. We encourage readers to read the entire piece here, but here are some snippets re Morison:

[on the DOJ's current criteria for commutations] ... “It is an exceedingly narrow set of criteria,” says Sam Morison, a lawyer specializing in clemency who worked in the Office of the Pardon Attorney for 13 years during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Even so, he says, “they should have no problem finding cases if they are really serious about it.” Morison worries that even if Obama sincerely wants to make up for lost time, he will face “pushback” from the Justice Department. “In my experience, it was not a lack of manpower” that blocked commutations, he says. “It was a lack of political will. The Justice Department wasn’t going to do it.”  
[on Obama's options] Earnest promises that Obama will use “executive authority to try to correct as many injustices as possible,” while urging Congress to “enact the kind of reforms that the president can’t by acting on his own.” But Obama can do a lot more than he has done so far, and his unused power will be especially important if Congress fails to pass significant sentencing reforms this year. “The president could largely fix this in an afternoon,” says Morrison, by issuing an “amnesty proclamation” that retroactively applies the lighter crack penalties that Congress approved in 2010, commuting sentences that would be shorter under current law. Families Against Mandatory Minimums says that change alone could help something like 8,800 prisoners.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Atlantic: Amnesty for Pot Offenders

In recent months, the Editor of this blog has worked with Zack Hinden of The Atlantic, providing historical insight and original data. Hinden's curiosity was how presidential use of pardons in the era of Prohibition, and the immediate post-Prohibition era, might be analogous to pardoning in an era when public attitudes about marijuana are changing and decriminalization is a growing trend in the states. Here are some excerpts from Hinden's fine effort. You can read the entire piece here.
On Monday, President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 federal prisoners locked up for nonviolent drug offenses, raising the total number of commutations he’s issued to 89. ... Good news, no doubt, and an invitation to consider how we measure progress when it comes to executive clemency ... 
Congress [introduced] a bill to shore up the Eighteenth Amendment, known as the Volstead Act. Wilson vetoed the Act. Congress overrode his veto. With no legislative recourse, Wilson chipped away at Prohibition using the executive power that Congress could not check: his pardon. By the end of his second term, alcohol offenders accounted for more than one-fifth of Wilson’s clemency recipients ... when Prohibition was repealed by popular demand in 1933, FDR went on a pardoning spree that outclassed his predecessors, approving alcohol offenders who had been previously rejected or otherwise hadn’t even applied. Wilson used his pardon to protest an impossible law. Roosevelt used his to acknowledge the change in social norms. ... 
The time when most Americans condoned alcohol consumption despite Prohibition rhymes with our own, when 53 percent of the country supports the legalization of marijuana, and pot laws have been curtailed in 23 states and the nation’s capital ...   
The precedents are clear. When an executive believes that the letter of the law runs counter to the public interest, it’s his prerogative to pardon. Consider, for instance, the amnesties granted to tax-resisting Whiskey Rebels by Washington and Adams, to aliens and seditionists by Jefferson, to pirates by Madison, to Confederate soldiers by Johnson, to draft-dodgers by Carter—or, in effect, to 4.3 million undocumented immigrants last November, by President Obama. Just as that decision pressed Congress and state legislatures to come around on immigration, amnesty for marijuana offenders would send a reality check—to governors who wield their own pardon power, to police and judges, as well as to employers, landlords, and college admissions committees—that most Americans don’t believe marijuana-use needs punishing, and that there’s justice in forgiveness.
Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

GOP House Members Go Abruptly Stupid

Today, a group of House Republicans has graced the U.S. Attorney General with a letter complaining as follows:
As Members of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Department of Justice, including the functions performed by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, we are deeply concerned that the President continues to use his pardon power to benefit specific classes of offenders, or for political purposes.
The "for political purposes" is, of course, a throwaway line, but complaining about clemency on behalf of "specific classes of offenders" is the stuff of a very special kind of stupidity and ignorance.

Looking over our web tracking tools this evening, we see that someone in the Executive Office of the President of the United States spent several hours on this blog today, and focused particularly on the Truman and Kennedy presidencies and this link.

http://www.pardonpower.com/2008/12/context-amnesties-or-blanket-pardons.html

To which we say, "Bravo, White House!" As the great Ann Peebles might put it: "Tear their little playhouse down, room by room."

The Clemency Resource Center

NEW YORK—July 14, 2015—NYU School of Law announced the launch of the Clemency Resource Center (CRC), a pop-up law office within the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law (CACL).

The CRC will exist for one year, with the sole purpose of preparing and submitting federal clemency petitions at no cost to prisoners. Beginning with a staff of seven attorneys, the CRC will work closely with Clemency Project 2014, an ongoing initiative designed to identify and find counsel for worthy clemency candidates, and will provide pro bono assistance to federal prisoners who likely would have received shorter sentences had they been sentenced today.

The CRC was co-founded by Rachel Barkow, Segal Family Professor of Regulatory Law and Policy at NYU Law, and Mark Osler, who holds the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of St. Thomas. Erin Collins, a former public defender and acting assistant professor at NYU Law, serves as executive director. Generously funded by Open Society Foundations, the CRC will begin work in August.

The CRC is unique in that it addresses an immediate short-term opportunity. President Obama has clearly signaled his intent to use the constitutional tool of clemency to address over-incarceration. Clemency Project 2014 aims to identify all federal inmates who seek help and meet criteria released by the US Department of Justice.

Obama's "Bold" Record on Commutations. Highly questionable.

Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest suggested President Obama's record on commutations of sentence was "bold." We're not seeing that. To make his point, Mr. Earnest compared the President's total number of commutations (89) to that of the four previous presidents - well known, for having a freakish disregard for the use of the pardon power. It was kind of like bragging that one is more merciful and kind than Torquemada.

But, Mr. Earnest failed to point out two seemingly relevant pieces of data. First, the previous four presidents, miserable records and all, did grant 88 commutations of sentence. President Obama, after six and a half years of Hope and Change has "beaten" them by a grand total of ONE. Count 'em. ONE.

Secondly, none of the previous four presidents received nearly as many applications for commutations of sentence as Obama. If you combine their numbers - as Mr. Earnest is want to do - you see that Obama has received a thousand plus more applications than all of them combined and the result has been slightly (1) more commutations of sentence.

"Bold"? We think not.

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

White House: "Bold" on Commutations, Pardons "Another Story"

Sometimes, a White House Press Secretary can only be armed with so many talking points, and data.Yesterday, Josh Earnest bragged that President Obama has done a little better (one better actually) than some of the worst, most neglectful presidents in history (the previous four). Let's all hope that is not a sign of things to come - or not to come!

Q And if you look at the numbers, the President is behind some of his predecessors in this category in terms of commutations and pardons, although it appears he’s doing some catching up. Is this something that we should see or that we might see accelerate over his remaining time in office?

MR. EARNEST: What I would say, Jim, in terms of the raw numbers of commutations, the announcement today of 46 commutations is actually the largest number of commutations that's been issued by a President on a single day dating back to at least the Johnson administration. And this brings to I believe it's 89 -- that's the number of people who have received a commutation from the President of the United States, and that actually is more than the number of commutations issued by the four previous Presidents combined. So the President has taken pretty bold action when it comes to commutations. I think the point that you're raising --

Monday, July 13, 2015

President Obama Speaks



BREAKING: President Obama just granted clemency to 46 men and women whose sentences didn't fit their crimes. Nearly all of these individuals would have already served their time and returned to society if they were convicted of the exact same crime today: http://go.wh.gov/KtwU7f
Posted by The White House on Monday, July 13, 2015

Obama and Previous Democratic Presidents

With today's granting of 46 commutations of sentence, President Obama has now granted 64 pardons and 89 commutations of sentence. How does this compare to the record of previous Democratic presidents?

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

Obama to Blaze Past Franklin Pierce ...

With today's announcement of 46 commutations of sentence, the most granted by a president in a single day since July 26, 1935, President Obama has blazed past Franklin Pierce into the number 9 spot for least merciful presidents in history.

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Federal Judge Speaks, in the Case of Albert D. Reed

Recently, former deputy attorney general James Cole (whose clemency record was fantastically abysmal) said commutations of sentence were a "a touchy situation” because the president does not "just supplant a judge’s determination of sentence.” We refer his straw man to the Honorable C. Weston Houck, who said this, at the sentencing hearing of Albert D. Reed, September 27, 1995:
I don’t think there is any basis for the discrepancy that’s been in effect for some time. I believe that everybody pretty well agrees that Congress made a mistake when they decided that crack cocaine should be treated a hundred times more seriously than powder cocaine…. …But what they have done by treating crack cocaine a hundred times more seriously than powder cocaine is so ridiculous that they might even see it and back up on it… …It would seem to me that it would be unfair, if they change the law upon a recognition that the law was wrong and should never have been what they made it, then it seems to me it would be unfair to all the hundreds and hundreds of people that have been sentenced under that law and are serving time under that law, not to go back and correct those sentences... [Y]ou shouldn’t have people serving time that is unfair and improper…. ... I fully expect that in this case, that if Congress changes the law, that you’ll come back and ask me to re-sentence Mr. Reed based upon that new law, and I’ll have to deal with that problem then, and I guess I’ll have to deal with it with many, many other people, and my inclination would be to come back and re-do those sentences. (Sentencing Hearing Transcript pp. 61-63.)

Repost: The Coming Wave of Commutations

On December 19, 2013, President Obama granted 8 commutations of sentence. It was the highest number of commutations granted by a president, in a single day, since 1970 - excluding the last-minute clemency caper of Bill Clinton. Commutations of sentence have been extremely rare since the administration of Lyndon Johnson. But those in-the-know say hundreds, that 's right, hundreds are likely to be granted before President Obama leaves office.

Do we believe it? Well, we retain the right to a healthy skepticism, but are always, yes always hopeful that some president, any president at all, will take the pardon power more seriously, and will become a more active participant in the Nation's approximation of justice - just exactly as the Founding Fathers intended. So, should the commutations of sentence come raining from the sky (relatively speaking), here are six reasons why you should be neither shocked nor annoyed:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

If Obama Commuted 100 Sentences Tomorrow ...

After years and years of head-fakes, many media outlets appear to be on the boarder of frenzy, because aides to the President are now indicating (once again) that he "may" grant "dozens" of commutations of sentence in the coming weeks (no one seems to notice that pardons have almost vanished from the radar).

So, now, as reporters everywhere are posed, ready to toss out words like "unprecedented" and "record-breaking," your snarky correspondent suggests that we all think about this: Let's say the President were to grant 100 commutations of sentence tomorrow, bringing his total to 143. Not merely "dozens," but a full one hundred !

Albert Reed's Petition for Commutation of Sentence

What kinds of cases are before the President, waiting for action? What does and application for commutation of sentence look like? Here is some information from a current application, Albert Delon Reed, Jr.’s Petition for Commutation of Sentence. It is a bit technical, in places, because it has to be. But readers can certainly learn from it, especially Judge Houcks' commentary: 

"When I was 24 years old, I received a sentence of life imprisonment for my conviction of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and marijuana. I have now served over twenty years in prison (I have been detained since my arrest on August 4, 1994). I believe---and Congress has since recognized---that my prescribed punishment severely exceeds the crime.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 amended certain sections of the United States Code, to state that in the event of a violation involving at least 50 grams of cocaine base, and if the offender had one or more prior felony drug convictions, the offender must be sentenced to at least 20 years’ imprisonment. Congress further amended this section upon passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. Those amendments provided that a person possessing at least 50 grams of cocaine base who had two or more felony drug convictions must be sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment, followed by ten years of supervised release. I received my sentence under this law.

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