Clemency

Obama Promises to 'Correct As Many Injustices As Possible' Through Clemency

Does he mean it?

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White House

Yesterday, as Lauren Galik noted, President Obama granted 46 commutations, three more than he issued in the first 2,364 days of his administration combined. His new total, 89, exceeds that of every president since Lyndon Johnson, who shortened 226 sentences during his 62 months in office. That's quite an improvement for a president who issued just one commutation during his first term and was in danger of being remembered as one of America's least merciful presidents.

All the prisoners whose sentences were commuted yesterday are nonviolent drug offenders, 14 of whom nevertheless received life sentences. In two cases marijuana was the only drug involved; those prisoners received sentences of 20 years and 22 years, respectively, for cultivation and distribution. Seven cases involved cocaine powder, with sentences ranging from 20 years to life. One case, where the defendant received a 20-year sentence, involved methamphetamine as well as cocaine. Two involved unspecified "controlled substances." But the vast majority of the prisoners—34 out of 46, three-quarters of the total—committed offenses involving crack cocaine, as did most of the prisoners who received commutations from Obama prior to yesterday. That makes sense, because Congress shortened crack sentences in 2010 but did not make the changes retroactive. The upshot is that thousands of crack offenders are continuing to serve sentences that nearly everyone now agrees are too long.

Commutation candidates who received penalties more severe than they would get under current law are supposed to receive special consideration under Justice Department guidelines announced last year, provided they are "non-violent, low-level offenders" who have served at least 10 years, "do not have a significant criminal history," have "demonstrated good conduct in prison," and have no "significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels." As I said last week, those additional criteria seem superfluous to me. If someone got 10 years in prison for an offense that would be punishable by a substantially shorter sentence today, it hardly makes sense that he has to complete his term before he is eligible for commutation. Assuming the point is to correct punishments that do not fit the crime, which is how Obama put it yesterday, anyone serving a term that is now considered excessive should be eligible. 

"While I expect the President will issue additional commutations and pardons before the end of his term," White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said yesterday, "it is important to recognize that clemency alone will not fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies." Similarly, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama will use "executive authority to try to correct as many injustices as possible," but he also wants Congress to "enact the kind of reforms that the president can't by acting on his own." In the video announcing yesterday's commutations, Obama noted bipartisan support for sentencing reform, and he is expected to expand on that subject in a speech to the NAACP today and during a visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma on Thursday.

Possible vehicles for reform include the Smarter Sentencing Act, which was introduced in the Senate and the House last February. The bill would make the shorter crack sentences enacted in 2010 retroactive, cut mandatory minimums for various drug offenses in half, eliminate the mandatory life sentence for a third drug offense, and expand the "safety valve" for low-level, nonviolent offenders.

The SAFE Justice Act, which was introduced last month in the House, also would expand the safety valve and allow crack offenders sentenced under the old rules to seek shorter terms. In addition, it would eliminate federal penalties for simple possession of drugs in jurisdictions subject to state law, reserve mandatory minimum sentences for high-level drug traffickers, clarify that gun-related mandatory minimums can run consecutively only "when the offender is a true recidivist," give judges more discretion in sentencing people based on their responses to "reverse stings," encourage more use of diversion and probation, and offer prisoners time reductions in exchange for their participation in job training and other programs aimed at reducing recidivism. 

Obama and his underlings are certainly right that sentencing reform, which could help thousands of current prisoners as well as future defendants, is preferable to clemency. But they underestimate the potential impact of commutations, which so far has been limited mainly by the administration's initial lethargy, its unnecessarily restrictive criteria, and its insistence on detailed, case-by-case evaluation. A general policy of freeing people whose sentences are plainly unjust—in particular, people who have already served as much time as they would get under current law—could help thousands of prisoners. That option will be especially attractive if Congress fails to pass significant sentencing reforms.

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  1. His new total, 89, exceeds that of every president since Lyndon Johnson.

    IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN EVERY PRESIDENT SINCE WASHINGTON!
    AND THERE’S STILL 789,455 TO GO!!
    NO CREDIT! NO CREDIT!!

    1. Lyndon Johnson, paragon of excellence.

    2. Count the criminals among the illegals, and his number becomes about that 789,455!

    3. Count the criminals among the illegals, and his number becomes about that 789,455!

  2. Drop in the bucket. Way to be, President Empty Suit.

  3. Is it significant that Obama is starting to look like Pat Paulsen?

    http://www.brainyquote.com/quo…..ulsen.html

    1. Make monkeys out of the voters? Horribly racist.

  4. “While I expect the President will issue additional commutations and pardons before the end of his term,” White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said yesterday, “it is important to recognize that clemency alone will not fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies.”

    Well, what if you tried letting everyone out of jail who didn’t belong there?

    Clemency would go a long way towards fixing what was wrong at least for those people.

    Or would signing several thousand pardons make the Prez’s wrist tired…poor guy…lets just keep people unjustly in jail.

  5. Obama + promise = null set

    1. you mean kept.

      he is a prolific promiser.

  6. That’s quite an improvement for a president who issued just one commutation during his first term

    He had to lower the oceans, heal the planet, and bring peace to Iraq first, smartypants

    1. …all while being opposed and battled at EVERY TURN by the Teathuglihadisticans.

      The man is a miracle worker, I say.

    2. He also had to worry about another election. Not sure what the hold up is now.

      1. Not sure what the hold up is.

        Yeah, why isn’t he doing something? Wait, he is doing something. More commutations than any other president in the last 45 years. But why isn’t he doing more?! The monster!

        1. and President Choom has done zero on the larger front. The guy wouldn’t even tell his DOJ to knock it off about weed after the CO and WA referenda.

        2. You think he’s moving full steam ahead? If not, do you not also wonder why not? Especially if these are, as the president’s spokesman puts it, injustices and he has the power to correct them.

        3. More commutations than any other president in the last 45 years

          He cleared the lowest of low bars. Somebody get this man another Nobel Prize, stat! Compare his efforts on this with his efforts on his pet issues.

          1. Fighting sarcasm with sarcasm? Yeah, that’s real helpful.

  7. Obama tossed us a bone.
    It should have been the whole chicken!

    1. Oh, a FRIED CHICKEN, I suppose?

      RACIST!

      1. No! A whole, fresh, plump and juicy chicken! And all her buddies! And every other barnyard animal on the farm! No, in the whole country! What is taking him so long?!!11!?

        1. derp

    2. racisttttt

      1. ^^ this is what I’m talkin’ ’bout

        *fist bumps Lord H – YEAH, I’M THAT GUY WHO STILL FIST BUMPS!*

    3. No waffles?

      1. waffles is dead, man….

        *pours a sip*

        1. What? When did that happen?

    4. The bone isn’t for us. It’s for the people in prison.

      1. there is a prison joke somewhere in there.

      2. That’s a lot of nonviolent offenders not getting boned, then.

        Wait, it’s a lot of nonviolent offenders getting boned.

        What’s with this bone metaphor, anyway?

      3. I think that the criteria for eligibility are far too marrow.

  8. Perhaps Obama should be told that he needs to sign his golf score card at the end of every round, and then someone could slip in a clemency form that he would inadvertently sign. He’d be well over 200 by now.

    1. +1 over par

  9. my buddy’s step-aunt makes $68 /hour on the laptop . She has been without a job for nine months but last month her check was $99350 just working on the laptop for a few hours. check my source
    http://www.jobnet10.com

    1. OK, I’m starting to get suspicious now. That’s pushing 1500 hours a month — no “step aunt” has that kind of stamina.

      1. That is in fact 60.87 days per month. If the aunt has a time machine, why is she still working?

  10. my buddy’s step-aunt makes $68 /hour on the laptop . She has been without a job for nine months but last month her check was $99350 just working on the laptop for a few hours. check my source
    http://www.jobnet10.com

  11. You know who else wanted to correct as many injustices as possible…

    1. Bedevere, Galahad, and Launcelot?

    2. Khan?

      1. KHHHHAAAAANNNN!

    3. The Equalizer? (Edward Woodward version)

    4. Jesus Christ?

    5. Hitl…wait….

    6. Papa Smurf?

    7. Frank Castle?

      1. James Castle was a pretty much uncelebrated artist. Look him up. Worthwhile.

      1. (That was supposed to be a reply to above. If Denzel moves it for me I’ll vote for him instead.)

    8. carolcardona?

  12. Obama will use “executive authority to try to correct as many injustices as possible.”

    “Executive authority?”
    It’s an end-run around Congress!
    Dictator! DICTATOR!!

    1. OK, Blowtox, we get it – you’re Bo’s more-retarded cousin. Thanks for playing.

    2. Yeah. Because undoing things is the same as doing things. Retard.

    3. Wow, I haven’t seen butthurt of this magnitude in a very long time. I’m sorry we badmouthed your hero.

      1. It’s crazy really. If you’re so ashamed of buying lubricants, you can seriously go to the self checkout now and no one will know what you’re buying. I really think now that butts want to be hurt.

  13. Not bad. This might in fact be the best thing he’s done with the power of the office.

    The problem with mass pardons is that then you’re on the hook politically for any single recidivist, and there’s bound to be at least a few %. Same reason sentencing reform laws don’t include provisions to commute everyone’s sentences. Something something Bastiat, seen, unseen.

    1. you’re on the hook politically for any single recidivist

      Yep, and you can bet that Fox News and all the other Republican partisan sites will be following these people around, waiting for one misstep so they can pounce on Obama, claiming he’s “soft on crime.” The ads are already being made.

      1. You know dats right, uh huh.

      2. Seriously, but I shirley realize that you are NOT aware that our own Jacob Sullum was on Fox News at least once and was called a ‘pinhead’ by O’Reilly. Fox News is douchiness around here. And as for Sullum, to me he is the gold standard of anti-drug. Of course, gold bugs are horrid creatures to some. Are they not?

        1. Fox News is douchiness around here

          That explains Stossel, The Independents, Kennedy…all Fox products.

      3. But… who would care? He’s not going to be running for anything else.

      4. But he’s not eligible for re-election, so why beat a lame duck?

  14. Good for him, and I hope it is a sign of good things to come. But even if it isn’t, at least these few dozen people have found some relief.

  15. Seriously,
    Perhaps Reason can set up an internship for a recently commuted non-violent offender to blog about his/her post release (and former life) experiences.
    Similarly, Reason could set up a donation bank to help out recently presidentially-commuted non-violent offenders. If for anything, to prove that libertarians are cold hearted social Darwinists.

    1. If we can set up a fund for the Reason 6, Shirley we can dig deeper for the Obama 89.

      1. Obama ’89. I like that. That’s when he launched his exploratory committee on seeking the Presidency.

  16. The upshot is that thousands of crack offenders are continuing to serve sentences that nearly everyone now agrees are too long.

    So we’re still perpetuating the idea that drugs aren’t just bad but criminally bad, and we’re going to lock you up for some amount of time, just not as mercilessly long as twenty or so years. Maybe only ten. Plus semipermanent ward status when you’re discharged with a felony conviction. So really, very little clemency whatsoever.

    I wonder how many of the offenders Obama commuted now have a target painted on their backs for other inmates.

  17. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.online-jobs9.com

    1. Yes, but did you get benefits such as paid vacation, maternity leave, healthcare, etc.? Do you have a union? Rethink things, bro.

  18. Does anyone have an idea of how many people are currently locked up for non-violent drug offenses?

    1. A shitload?

  19. I’ll be okay with it if Obama’s biggest legacy is rolling back the Drug War.

    He should encourage Congress to remove marijuana from Schedule 1 and strip the DEA of authority to schedule new drugs into Schedule 1 (if we’re going to have this crappy regimen, it should at least be Congress that determines and takes responsibility for when people go to jail for merely possessing a substance, not an unaccountable bureaucracy). Indeed, all Schedule 1 drugs should be reviewed by Congress.

    The minimum sentencing laws need to be completely scrapped. They generally provide little flexibility for extenuating circumstances and are used as a tool by prosecutors to bludgeon defendants into pleading. If a judge is too lenient on criminals during sentencing, there’s a method Congress can deal with that: impeachment.

    1. I would straight up praise the man if he pulled off something like that.

    2. But if DEA can alter the schedules, why doesn’t he ask them to do it, rather than Congress?

      1. What Obama has the power to do, the next president (or the one after that) can simply undo.

        I would prefer the power to set criminal sanctions to be where it is meant to be: in Congress. Congress effed up by delegating this power to the executive under vague standards (which was somehow constitutional); Congress ought to clean up their mess.

  20. “In your dream, Obama is not a scam”
    “In your dream, George Bush was not a scam”
    “In your dream, Clinton was not a scam”
    “In your dream, Reagan was not a scam”
    “In your dream, all the rest were not a scam”
    “In your dream, the constitution was not a scam”…….”

    But by all means, dream on!!!! 🙂

    Quotes from original music and lyrics: “Dreams[ Anarchist Blues]”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0o-C1_LZzk

    Regards, onebornfree.

    Personal Freedom Consultant:
    http://www.freedominunfreeworld.blogspot.com

  21. It’s a good approach to address cases where current law has reduced sentences and cases when even the judge was unhappy with the harshness of the required punishment. As tempting as it may be to want a president to pardon drug offenders en masse, his pardon and commutation powers are undemocratic, not to say monarchical. On some level you must respect the democratic process even when it delivers absurd and harsh laws, lest the monarchy you get as an alternative isn’t the one you wanted.

    The good thing is there seems to be little correlation between incarceration rates and the drop in crime, despite the apparent link. Some researchers think this semi-mysterious phenomenon is possibly much more correlated to the legalization of abortion and the omission of lead from gasoline and other products. However, it’s often noted that people go to prison and learn to be criminals, so it’s a risk that letting out a bunch of people will cause the crime rate to go up. This is assuming we don’t have any safety net or reintegration process in place. I’m sure libertarian advocates of criminal justice reform will get right on that.

    1. But the president is elected. All the states hold popular elections for the presidential electors. So how’s it undemocratic?

      1. Fair enough.

  22. You have to check how many of them have personal connections to Obama. President Crony is nothing if not predictable.

  23. It’s only a matter of time before his actions result in another Kate Steinle.

  24. Leeland Yee eagerly awaits his pardon.

  25. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.online-jobs9.com

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