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March 30, 2016

Prez Obama commutes the sentence of 61 more federal drug offenders

As reported in this Washington Post piece, "President Obama commuted the sentences of 61 inmates Wednesday, part of his ongoing effort to give relief to prisoners who were harshly sentenced in the nation’s war on drugs." Here is more on this notable clemency news:

More than one-third of the inmates were serving life sentences. Obama has granted clemency to 248 federal inmates, including Wednesday's commutations.  White House officials said that Obama will continue granting clemency to inmates who meet certain criteria set out by the Justice Department throughout his last year....  Since the Obama administration launched a high-profile clemency initiative, thousands more inmates have applied.  Another 9,115 clemency petitions from prisoners are still pending....

But sentencing reform advocates said that many more prisoners are disappointed they have not yet heard from the president about their petitions. “Sixty-one grants, with over 10,000 petitions pending, is not an accomplishment to brag about,” said Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and an advocate for inmates petitioning for clemency.  “I know some of those still waiting, men who were grievously over-sentenced, who have reformed themselves, and never had a record of violence.  My heart breaks for them, as their hope for freedom — a hope created by the members of this administration — slips away.”

The White House has argued that broader criminal justice reform is needed beyond the clemency program. “Despite the progress we have made, it is important to remember that clemency is nearly always a tool of last resort that can help specific individuals, but does nothing to make our criminal justice system on the whole more fair and just,” said White House counsel W. Neil Eggleston. “Clemency of individual cases alone cannot fix decades of overly punitive sentencing policies.  So, while we continue to work to resolve as many clemency applications as possible — and make no mistake, we are working hard at this — only broader criminal justice reform can truly bring justice to the many thousands of people behind bars serving unduly harsh and outdated sentences.”

Among those granted clemency on Wednesday was Byron Lamont McDade, who had an unusual advocate in his corner.  The judge who sent McDade to prison for more than two decades for his role in a Washington-area cocaine conspiracy personally pleaded McDade’s case for early release. U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said McDade’s 27-year punishment was “disproportionate” to his crime, but that he had no choice but to impose the harsh prison term in 2002 because of then-mandatory sentencing guidelines. Over the years, the judge had urged the Bureau of Prisons and the White House to reduce McDade’s sentence to 15 years.  He received no response until now....

On Thursday, the White House will hold an event called Life after Clemency that will include former inmates and their attorneys, along with some prison reform advocates. The president’s senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, is meeting with advocates, former inmates and family members of prisoners Wednesday at the White House for an event about women and the criminal justice system.

This White House Press release provides basic details on the full list of 61 offenders who today learned that they now have a "prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2016." Many of those listed appear to have been involved in a crack offense, though other drug cases sentenced both before and after Booker can be found in the group.  Notably, this NACDL press release reports that "25 of [these 61 offenders] were applicants whose petitions were supported by Clemency Project 2014."  This White House blog post authored by White House counsel W. Neil Eggleston provides more details and context concerning these grants:

Today, the President announced 61 new grants of commutation to individuals serving years in prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws.  More than one-third of them were serving life sentences.  To date, the President has now commuted the sentences of 248 individuals more than the previous six Presidents combined. And, in total, he has commuted 92 life sentences.

Underscoring his commitment not just to clemency, but to helping those who earn their freedom make the most of their second chance, the President will meet today with commutation recipients from both his Administration and the previous administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  During the meeting, the commutation recipients will discuss their firsthand experiences with the reentry process and ways that the process can be strengthened to give every individual the resources he or she needs to transition from prison and lead a fulfilling, productive life. 
 
Building on this conversation, tomorrow the White House will host a briefing titled Life After Clemency with advocates, academics, and Administration officials to discuss and share ideas on the President’s clemency initiative and ways to improve paths to reentry. In addition to officials from the White House and the Department of Justice, experts, academics, and commutation recipients will share their expertise and insights on returning to society after years behind bars.  To watch the briefing live, tune in tomorrow, Thursday, March 31, at 2:00 PM EDT at www.whitehouse.gov/live.

March 30, 2016 at 01:07 PM | Permalink

Comments

Ernest Spiller – East St. Louis, IL
Offense: Distribution of crack cocaine (two counts); maintaining a crack house; possession of a firearm in further of a drug trafficking crime; felon in possession of a firearm; Southern District of Illinois
Sentence: 352 months' imprisonment; three years' supervised release; $1,000 fine (August 3, 2000)

Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2016.

Sixteen years seems a little light for this career criminal.

Plus, Doug, he is not just a drug offender, he is a gun criminal---and doesn't Obama profess to have a problem with gun criminals?

Let's all hope each one of these people live up to the trust Obama has placed in him or her.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 30, 2016 1:33:17 PM

Good for President Obama! I agree with Federalist to this extent: I hope one of these folks does not pull a Willie Horton

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Mar 30, 2016 1:37:52 PM

Wankers

Posted by: anon | Mar 30, 2016 5:04:15 PM

I agree 13 yrs is light. I didn't notice Weldon Angelos on the list. I would think he should of bubbled up to the top for review, with all if the publicity.

I hope these people dont mess things up for future grants and possible changes in the mandatories.

That is a pile if yrs rolled back from the Bop. Maybe we can start to cut back their staff at Carswell, Tx and prisons guards. They can get a real job. Who knows.

Im impressed, but it sets ya back when you read their charges. I think most are addicts and when they get hooked being arrested doesnt phase them. They are bullet proof, until it wears off in 6 months. Then what have I done.

I have to say, things are happening. 10 yrs ago they couldnt jack them up quick or high enough. I wonder the number when Obama leaves office and will Weldon Angelos finally make it. Boy words of praise to the Feds from me, mark it on your calender.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Mar 30, 2016 7:30:07 PM

It is interesting---Obama goes light on some career gun criminals, drops prosecutions of gun crimes, but whines about gun violence in this country--interesting. You'd almost think that he cares more about disarming the law-abiding than punishing thug criminals.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 31, 2016 10:09:30 AM

Why do you suppose it is that the VAST majority of these cases are all from the Eastern Half of the United States? of 61 cases,
the furthest West you find is TX, except for 2 CA, 1 HI, 1 OR and 1 WY. Do Western judges give out fewer harsh sentences?

Posted by: folly | Mar 31, 2016 1:03:44 PM

Tin hat alert.

Posted by: MarK M. | Apr 1, 2016 2:33:42 AM

It was a great event for the Clemency Recipients that went to the White House. It is always heartbreaking for those who are not chosen. I was disappointed that there were not any nonviolent marijuana offenders on the list, but I'm sure that those who received commutations were exceptional candidates.

That's really the problem. Over incarceration due to over charging and extraordinarily long sentences has made us the world's jailer. We have thousands of citizens serving sentences that do not fit the crime from 20 years to life without parole for nonviolent offenses. If released, they would not be a danger to society. It should be an embarrassment to us. They would not have these sentences in any developed country with the rule of law.

For this reason, the President could grant thousands more commutations without jeopardizing public safety. I would hope that before he leaves office thousands of commutations would be granted. That would literally be a drop in the bucket.

Posted by: beth | Apr 2, 2016 12:55:03 AM

It was a great event for the Clemency Recipients that went to the White House. It is always heartbreaking for those who are not chosen. I was disappointed that there were not any nonviolent marijuana offenders on the list, but I'm sure that those who received commutations were exceptional candidates.

That's really the problem. Over incarceration due to over charging and extraordinarily long sentences has made us the world's jailer. We have thousands of citizens serving sentences that do not fit the crime from 20 years to life without parole for nonviolent offenses. If released, they would not be a danger to society. It should be an embarrassment to us. They would not have these sentences in any developed country with the rule of law.

For this reason, the President could grant thousands more commutations without jeopardizing public safety. I would hope that before he leaves office thousands of commutations would be granted. That would literally be a drop in the bucket.

Posted by: beth | Apr 2, 2016 12:55:10 AM

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