Obama Will Issue Thousands of Commutations If He Keeps This Month's Pace

The president might even surpass Richard Nixon's commutation rate.



Yesterday, as C.J. Ciaramella noted, President Obama commuted the sentences of 111 federal prisoners, including Tim Tyler, a Deadhead with no history of violence who received a life sentence in 1994 for mailing LSD to a friend who had become a government informant. Tyler, who was 24 when he was arrested, pleaded guilty based on bad legal advice, thinking it would reduce his sentence to 21 years. He did not realize his third drug conviction would trigger a mandatory life sentence. Thanks to Obama, who ordered him released on August 30, 2018, Tyler will serve a total of 24 years. That is certainly good news for him (comparatively speaking) and everyone who was appalled by his predicament. Likewise for the 110 other drug offenders, including 34 lifers, who received commutations yesterday.

Obama, who issued just one commutation during his first term and averaged 3.5 a year during his first six years in office, has now shortened 325 sentences in just one month. If he does the same or better in September, October, November, December, and January, he will issue a total of more than 2,000 commutations by the time he leaves office, living up to a prediction made by an unidentified "senior administration official" in 2014, when Obama signaled a new receptiveness to clemency applications. That is undeniably impressive, especially when compared to the totals of Obama's recent predecessors. "To date," the White House says, "the President has granted commutations to more prisoners than the past ten presidents combined." His current total is 672, compared to the 572 commutations issued by Dwight Eisenhower through George W. Bush.

But because Obama also has received a lot more applications than his predecessors, his commutation rate is till just fair compared to theirs. He has now granted 2.6 percent of the 26,000 or so petitions he has received since 2009. By that measure, he is less than half as merciful as Richard Nixon. Still, if he keeps up this month's pace from now on, he will more than triple his commutation total and could surpass Nixon's rate by the end of his administration.

NEXT: Brickbat: No Room at the Inn

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  1. While the pace of commutations is nothing to sneeze at, didn’t Carter issue a blanket amnesty for draft dodgers and free thousands of people from the specter of criminal penalties at one stroke of the pen? Too bad Obama can’t re-schedule his meetings and take a few minutes to think about whether or not there’s one little law he needs no joint authority from Congress to change that could free a whole big bag of his buds from the specter of criminal penalties.

    1. He may yet reschedule marijuana on his way out the door, if for no other reason than to tweak incoming president Hillary.

    2. I don’t think he’s bold enough to do it on his own, but he could at least try to hash something out with Congress.

  2. I would speculate that at some point, one of the people he released will do something bad, and this will be the occasion for supporters of the current criminal-justice approach to hunker down and say, “see? we told you nothing should have been changed!”

    The thing is, I would prefer that we not swing the pendulum over to where Europe is, with violent criminals getting fairly short sentences (which, at least in Norway, are served in really nice prisons).

    There are people who generically attack “overincarceration” without distinguishing between violent and nonviolent offenses. Many of these people are of course race-baiters who, forgetting earlier black activists who pushed for strict sentencing laws, will now portray strict sentencing as a white racist conspiracy.

    Who better than libertarians to push back against this, making the case for releasing the nonviolent offenders while rejecting the idea of leniency for repeat violent felons?

    (of course, I’d say that even among violent offenders there are those who got overly stiff sentences, so I’m certainly not claiming the system got it right every time)

  3. Commutations are jack off material for kings. Obviously, freedom disbursed by any means is preferable to incarceration but until sentencing is reformed the lives of simple human beings will continue to be strung like taffy between the slippery fingers of the goddamn punishment industry.

    1. That’s what lept out at me reading about this- good for him for commuting these sentences, but will he do anything about the laws that resulted in this to begin with? Is he going to spend a single neuron of thought considering the legal status of LSD? No? Then he can fuck right off.

  4. Why does this poor guy have to continue serving until 2018? Fuck that!

    If you believe he is wrongly in prison now, let him go now.

    No pats on the back for this commutation in my book.

    1. That struck me as a bit odd too.

  5. But because Obama also has received a lot more applications than his predecessors, his commutation rate is till just fair compared to theirs.

    OTOH, his treatment of Hillary trumps is a BFD!

  6. Obama has done more to end the drug war than all the other presidents combined. He is truly an American Hero. Now it’s up to Congress and fed agencies and states to pick up the slack. Because if Obama does everything himself you’ll say, “Sure he ended the drug war – but set a terrible precedent for executive privilege!”

    1. Obama has done more to end the drug war than all the other presidents combined.

      More than nothing? Wow.

      I suppose his not targeting states that have legalized weed is something, but that’s about it really.

  7. OK, so only 100,000 or so people left in federal prisons for completely unjust reasons. What a guy.

    1. Hey, don’t forget the people being let out not now, but in two years!

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