Clemency

Obama Issues His Fourth Batch of Pardons; Still No More Commutations

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White House

Today President Obama issued 17 pardons, more than he granted in any of his three prior batches. In fact, today's pardons amount to more than two-fifths of all the clemency petitions Obama has granted since taking office in January 2009. Obama, contrary to what his rhetoric about "second chances" and our excessively punitive criminal justice system might lead you to believe, is not big on clemency.

All 17 pardons involved relatively minor, nonviolent offenses, several of which should not be crimes at all and only five of which resulted in jail or prison terms: 54 days for embezzlement, six months for "unlawful use of a communication facility to distribute cocaine," one year for a Sherman Act violation, two years for "aiding and abetting in the theft of an interstate shipment," and five years for selling cocaine. The other 12 applicants, whose offenses include "aiding and abetting a wire fraud," "conspiracy to traffic counterfeit goods," " unauthorized acquisition of food stamps," and "possession of an unregistered firearm," received probation. As is typically the case, all of the pardons cleared the records of people who completed their sentences years ago.

Since drug law violations account for a large share of federal criminal cases and almost half of the people serving time in federal prisons, you'd think they would be better represented among pardons, especially since, unlike many of the other offenses committed by these applicants, they do not involve violating anyone's rights. Still, two is better than none, which is the number of commutations that Obama saw fit to grant this time around. Although thousands of drug offenders are serving federal sentences that Obama himself has said are unjust, he so far has shortened exactly one.

More on Obama's amazingly stingy clemency record here.