Obama Commutes Sentences of 98 Drug Offenders, Including 42 Lifers

He could still surpass Nixon in percentage of petitions granted.


White House

When he was arrested in 1990 for participating in a cocaine conspiracy, Ignatzio Giuliano was the 55-year-old owner of a dinner cruise boat in Fort Lauderdale. He is now an 81-year-old federal prisoner, suffering from multiple maladies and eager to spend time with his children and grandchildren before he dies. Thanks to President Obama, it looks like Giuliano will get that chance.

Giuliano is one of 98 prisoners whose sentences Obama shortened yesterday and one of 42 who received life sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. In a 2013 interview with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Giuliano said his defense attorney neglected to tell him prosecutors had offered a plea deal under which he would have received a five-year sentence. Because he went to trial and qualified as a "career offender" based on four prior convictions for nonviolent offenses involving cocaine and marijuana, he received a mandatory sentence of life without parole. The leader of the cocaine conspiracy, who testified against Giuliano and two other defendants, was released after serving three years.

"I am an old man now," Giuliano told the ACLU in 2013. "I made mistakes in my life, but I am not a threat to society, and I begrudge no one. My co-defendants have been home for years. All I am asking is to be afforded the dignity to spend the last few years of my life with my family, and to die outside of prison." After spending a quarter of a century behind bars, Giuliano is now scheduled to be released next February.

This latest batch of commutations raises Obama's total so far to 872, nearly all of them involving nonviolent drug offenders. That is more commutations than were issued by his 11 most recent predecessors combined. According to the White House, the 688 commutations since the beginning of 2016 are "the most ever done by a president in a single year"—not surprising, since Obama's commutations have been strikingly backloaded, with 79 percent coming during his last year in office and 98 percent in the second half of his second term. He shortened just one sentence during his first term.

Office of the Pardon Attorney

Obama clearly is trying hard to make up for lost time. In a speech on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said there will be "many more [commutations] to come." Yesterday White House Counsel Neil Eggleston said Obama is committed to "using his clemency authority through the remainder of his time in office." If he maintains this month's rate in November, December, and January, his total will be around 1,500. If he picks up the pace, he could still reach the "thousands" predicted in 2014.

Even 2,000 commutations would represent just 6.9 percent of the 29,000 or so petitions Obama has received, making him slightly more merciful than Richard Nixon by that measure. That nevertheless would represent a huge improvement from where Obama stood just six months ago.

Clemency Project 2014, the consortium of volunteer lawyers that has been helping the Justice Department sort through petitons, reports that it has been contacted by 36,000 federal prisoners and completed reviews for 34,000. Of those, about 2,150—just 6.3 percent—met the DOJ's picky criteria for special consideration, which include having a minimal prior criminal record and completing at least 10 years of a sentence that would have been shorter under current law.

Even if Obama ends up helping thousands of people who do not belong in prison, thousands more will remain behind bars by the time he leaves office. Congress could do more by passing retroactive sentencing reform, which foundered this year on pre-election anxieties and fearmongering by mindlessly draconian legislators like Tom Cotton. "You can't fix 30 years of bad policy overnight," says Kevin Ring, vice president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. "Every day, people are sentenced in federal court based not on what their judge thinks is appropriate, but on what Tip O'Neill, Strom Thurmond, and a bunch of other deceased lawmakers believed 30 years ago. It's just ridiculous."

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  1. So he's not completely worthless as a president then.

  2. He's finally found something useful, and constitutional, to do with his pen.

    And bitching about how "as a portion of pardon applications, blah blah," I would guess that he's been getting *more* applications than his predecessors because he's soliciting them. The fact that he's getting more petitions therefore doesn't affect the fact that these clemency grants are a very welcome development.

    I remember suggesting a few years back that Obama might be preparing a large number of clemency grants, and Tony or Buttplug or one of that crowd said I was simply echoing Fox News conspiracy theories to make Obama look bad.

    He seemed to assume that increasing grants of clemency grants would be a Bad Thing - so I imagine that Tony/whoever will now come here to complain about Obama doing this.

    1. I mean, Tony/whoever must still think clemency grants are a Bad Thing, right? Because it was a damaging accusation to say Obama would be doing them!

      Therefore, Tony/whoever should be *criticizing* Obama for actually doing this Bad Thing.

    2. This is just for the optics, Eddie. A final cynical attempt at legacy building. If he actually gave a damn about the people who's lives have been destroyed by arbitrary drug sentencing he could have done a hellava lot more a long time ago via 'phone and a pen'.

      Not that I'm particularly enamoured with the idea of a singular person having that power, but he could have done it.

      1. Sure, I bet he's going for a legacy, since his other policies haven't worked out so well. And he started later than he should have.

        But it's rare enough for a politician to do the right thing, I'm not going to insist it be for the right reasons.

        1. Fair enough.

          My main gripe with him on this issue is his blas? attitude towards rescheduling certain drugs. Something that would do far more good in the long run to reduce or eliminating prison time for non violent criminals who hurt nobody but themselves.

          1. I don't really know enough about the issue or the politics to know why he is doing that or why he lied his ass off about it. I am pretty sure if Hillary wins she will double down on the head cracking. She has already said she has no intention of ending the WOD. There is too much money in it.

            1. I think it's simple. Obama could have ordered e.g. marijuana rescheduled but he would have faced stiff resistance from the bureaucracies in charge of issuing and implementing the regulations. Why piss in DOJ's face when you need them in your pocket instead?

      2. You are correct but I doubt the people receiving these pardons care much about Obumbles motives. Honestly I don't either. If he spent the entirety of his remaining time in the white house doing this and then just get the fuck out I would be happy. It doesnt make up for all of the truly horrible shit he has done but it's somethin'.

        Of course he backloaded them. I imagine all pols with pardon power do that. Nobody wants to try to get reelected as the guy who released the next Willie Horton.

        1. They're not pardons, just commutations.

          1. Oh, I missed that. Still, they are home with their families.

            1. Agreed, but even when he does something right, Obama manages to do it the shittiest way possible.

  3. Again, commutations and not pardons.

    While I'm sure these people are glad to be out of jail, and the President deserves some very narrow praise for having done this (after much delay), he's not issuing very many pardons. It's going to be hard to find a job with the conviction on their record, and in a lot of cases it also means no voting and no guns.

    1. The U.S. Constitution says the President can "grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment."

      Black's Law Dictionary says a reprieve is a "Temporary postponement of the carrying out of a criminal sentence, esp. a death sentence."

      The same source says that one form of pardon is a "partial pardon" which is "A pardon that exonerates the offender from some but not all the punishment or legal consequences of a crime."

      Or if we go by the Heritage Foundation's definition: "A reprieve is the commutation or lessening of a sentence already imposed; it does not affect the legal guilt of a person. A pardon, however, completely wipes out the legal effects of a conviction."

      So depending on your source, a commutation is either a subset of reprieves or a subset of pardons.

      1. Whatever you call it, what Obama's doing doesn't clear anyone's record. It only lets them out of jail.

        1. Sure, but some would call it a partial pardon. Others apparently call it a reprieve.

    2. He is saving the pardons for the Bill & Hillary, and everyone connected to the foundation.

  4. Ever since California's definition of 'nonviolent' offenders included crimes such as assault with bodily harm, I have chosen to reserve judgement on such matters until I see the case details for any given offender.

    It's just another thing California has ruined.

    1. That crossed my mind. I remember early in his first term some talk out of Holder about releasing prisoners and I recall it having more the flavor of BLM horseshit than the humane release of people who presented no danger. Yeah, we need to see the cases.

    2. Is "illegal" gun possession a "violent" crime in California?

      1. Does not seem to be. Certain used of guns can be enhancements or used later as enhancements to other charges. codesection=pen=&hits=20

    3. California's definition of 'nonviolent' offenders included crimes such as assault with bodily harm

      Wait, what???? I even had to do a double-take about that. Oh California, never change you silly goose!

  5. Obama clearly is trying hard to make up for lost time.

    Yep, eight years go pretty fast when you're having fun on the links.

    1. If that's all he had done for those eight years, we would have been better off.

  6. Better than nothing. We bash him but he gets partial credit here.

    And partial praise.

    1. Agreed. Obama for a majority of his time in office has been completely antithetical to libertarianism, but this, and allowing states to make their own decisions on drug policy, are worthy of at least a modicum of honest praise.

  7. Stop the Federal Drug Lord Subsidy Program!

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