Obama Shortens 102 Sentences, Including 35 Life Terms for Nonviolent Drug Offenses

The president has granted 774 commutations so far, 97 percent of them in the second half of his second term.



The crime that sent Ricky Minor to federal prison for life involved a little more than a gram of methamphetamine, plus supplies for making more: pseudoephedrine pills, acetone, matches, and lighter fluid. There was no evidence that he made meth for anyone but himself and his wife, and under Florida law he probably would have received a sentence of two or three years. But a series of nonviolent drug offenses, none of which resulted in prison time, made him a "career offender" under federal law, triggering a mandatory life sentence for attempting to manufacture methamphetamine. "I was sitting in the courtroom when it happened," Minor's mother recalled in an interview with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), "and it was all I could do to stay seated in my chair. I was so shocked. I just couldn't believe they could do that to him." The judge who sentenced Minor acknowledged that a life term "far exceeds whatever punishment would be appropriate" while noting that he had no choice but to impose it.

Minor, who has spent 15 years behind bars, expected to die there. But thanks to President Obama, he will go free early in the next decade. Yesterday Obama commuted Minor's sentence from life to 262 months. Assuming Minor gets full "good time" credit, he should be released in less than five years. "Thanks to President Obama," Minor said in an ACLU press release, "I now have the chance to make my family proud of me, earn pride in myself, and be a person in society who is helpful and useful. I have felt my life wasting away inside of this place, and I know I'm capable of more. I haven't been able to hug my daughter as a free man since she was 7 years old. She's an adult now, and I am overcome with happiness that I won't miss any more of her life."

Minor is one 102 federal prisoners whose sentences Obama shortened yesterday, including 35 serving life sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. The latest batch raises Obama's commutation total to 774, "more than the previous 11 presidents combined," as the White House notes. That accomplishment is especially remarkable given Obama's slow start. He shortened just one sentence in his first term and just 20 more in the first two years of his second term. Of the commutations granted so far, 97 percent were issued in the second half of Obama's second term, with 76 percent granted since the beginning of this year. "While he will continue to review cases on an individualized basis throughout the remainder of his term," says White House Counsel Neil Eggleston, "these statistics make clear that the president and his administration have succeeded in efforts to reinvigorate the clemency process."

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), which helped publicize Ricky Minor's case, praised Obama for picking up his commutation pace while noting that the possibility of clemency does not absolve Congress of its responsibility to reform federal sentences, a bipartisan effort that fizzled this year thanks to Republican worries about looking soft on crime close to elections. "The president is doing the right thing," FAMM Vice President Kevin Ring said yesterday. "A hundred families—fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, and children—tonight will celebrate the news that a loved one will soon rejoin their family. President Obama has the power fix past mistakes, but only Congress can prevent future ones. It's time for Congress to reform the mandatory sentencing laws that produced—and continue to produce—unjust and counterproductive sentences."

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  1. Of the commutations granted so far, 97 percent were issued in the second half of Obama’s second term, with 76 percent granted since the beginning of this year

    He’s reached the “Aww, fuck it” stage of a presidency that started out in that state?

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  2. he should be released in less than five years

    So they’re letting him rot there for another five years because…?

    1. Because the system values finality and order over justice.

      1. I don’t quite see how letting him out in 5 years is any more final or orderly than letting him out now.

        1. It’s merely the system attempting to preserve the status quo for as long as possible, no matter how irrational.

          1. And maybe so that if he commits additional crimes after release, Obama will be safely out of office and Hillary will be safely elected.

            But it’s still better than no commutation at all.

          2. But if that’s the motivation, why commute the sentence at all? Or is the president somehow limited in how much he can take off the sentence? As far a I knew, he could let him out tomorrow.

            1. The president could let him out tomorrow if he wanted. However, this program has a specific scope. The scope is those people who were sentenced to really long sentences for non-violent drug offense, but if they were sentenced today would have a much lower sentence. He’s reducing the ridiculously long sentence to a lower one that would be handed out today. That means that some prisoners still have time to server under the lower sentence.

              Obama isn’t using this program to attack the war on drugs, he’s using it to attack some of the federal sentencing practices under Clinton and Bush.

        2. He’s been in there for 15 years already, they must want to make it an even 20.

    2. Not immediately releasing Minor basically amounts to FYTW.

    3. Because drugs. DRUGS!

    4. So they’re letting him rot there for another five years because…?

      Because the commutation program is limited in scope. It attempts to knock down mandatory minimums and career offender enhancements that were applied back when the person was sentenced, but wouldn’t be applied today (on non-violent drug offenses).

      1. ‘Cause the warriors of the WOD need victims in order to milk the taxpayers of more money and freedoms!

        Prison guards would need to find productive and honest jobs if there were too few prisoners! And lawyers and judges and therapists and cops and DEA and yada yada yada…

  3. Is his 55% approval rating coming from the people being released from Prison? Asking for a friend.

  4. “The judge who sentenced Minor acknowledged that a life term “far exceeds whatever punishment would be appropriate” while noting that he had no choice but to impose it.”

    Bullshit. The judge could have said “the sentence I am required to impose is so shocking to my conscience that rather than impose such a sentence, I hereby resign.”

    1. That would have been a lot more respectable.

    2. Yep, happens all the time. Don’t it?

    3. I wonder what would have happened if he’d gone ahead and sentenced him to two years. They’re not going to come ’round and throw the judge in jail now are they?

      1. The appeals court would have ordered him resentenced, would be my guess.

        1. I’m not in the legal field, but that seems like a good guess. So, go ahead and make them do that. Chew up a little more of the system’s time. Buck the system just one damn iota before handing down a sentence that you know is completely unconscionable.

          And THEN resign.

  5. I remember posting an article a few years back about how Obama might start issuing more clemency decrees, and either Tony or the other prog guy said I was echoing Republican talking points.

    I was actually being optimistic about the possibility that Obama might do the right thing, but to Tony (?), the whole issue had to be considered in TEAM terms – and the Republican TEAM always calls the Democratic TEAM soft on crime, so Democratic TEAM members have to defend Democrats from the egregious accusation that they might show any clemency.

    1. The whole issue was “tony.”

  6. I’m usually pretty loath to give Obama much credit for his governing style, priorities, or accomplishments because of his horrific spending and regulatory record, but I’ve got to say, it’s really good that he found something legitimately fair, good, and helpful to point his energies at, and then committed to steadily do that good thing as hard as he could until he leaves.

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  9. ALL drug offenses are nonviolent.

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