June 11, 2018
"Trump asks for clemency names and lists promptly arrive at White House"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article in the Washington Examiner. Here are excerpts (with one line stressed for commentary):
President Trump told reporters Friday that he wanted to give clemency to more people treated unfairly by the legal system, particularly cases involving people like Alice Johnson, who he released from a life sentence for drug dealing at the request of Kim Kardashian West. "I want to do people that are unfairly treated like an Alice," he said before boarding a Marine helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House. Hours later, lists of additional names were hand-delivered to the West Wing.
White House counsel Don McGahn and presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner sat down for separate meetings with a right-leaning policy advocate who handed them lists of dozens of inmates serving long sentences, according to a person involved in the discussions.
McGahn invited the advocate about a week earlier, requesting names, and seemed to react favorably to the case of Chris Young, a 30-year-old from Tennessee with a life sentence since age 22 for a drug conspiracy, the source said. The sentencing judge called Young's penalty "way out of whack," but said he had no choice.
Young’s name was supplied to the advocate by his attorney Brittany Barnett, who also represented Johnson. Dozens of additional names were supplied by the CAN-DO Foundation, which championed Johnson, as well as Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Topping a list of 20 marijuana inmates assembled by CAN-DO were Michael Pelletier and John Knock, who are serving life sentences for smuggling marijuana and unsuccessfully requested clemency from former President Barack Obama.
Pelletier, a paralyzed inmate, received a life sentence for smuggling pot from Canada into Maine, jurisdictions where the drug is now legal or soon will be. Knock’s sentence inspired his sister Beth Curtis to create the advocacy website LifeforPot.com documenting similar cases. "I will die in prison if President Trump does not commute my sentence," Pelletier recently told the Washington Examiner. "Sometimes, I wonder if I'm dead already because I'm living in hell.”
A list of 17 women and six men prepared by CAN-DO was topped by drug-conspiracy convict Michelle West and mail-fraud inmate Connie Farris, women who recently expressed optimism about Trump’s clemency moves, saying they hoped to rejoin their families....
The advocate who brought lists to the White House received the impression that officials may be considering setting up an internal clemency commission to circumvent or supplement the work of the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney.
In his remarks Friday morning, Trump claimed he was reviewing 3,000 names of clemency aspirants and invited football players who claim unfairness in the legal system to submit more names. It’s unclear if Trump actually has a list of 3,000 names. It’s possible he was referring to the about 3,000 clemency applications — for pardons and commutations combined — that the Office of the Pardon Attorney received during his administration. But the OPA, which clemency advocates consider slow and biased, has about 11,000 open cases that rolled over from Obama.
Although Trump referred to a clemency-reviewing “committee” on Friday, a White House official said that clemency petitions currently are being reviewed through the standard process, featuring the pardon attorney's office. There's some indication that's the case. Before Trump issued his second pardon to former Navy sailor Kristian Saucier, for example, the OPA abruptly reopened Saucier's case and sent him a detailed personal questionnaire.
“The White House will continue to review pardons and make decisions on a rolling basis,” the official said. “The White House and the Department of Justice receives thousands of clemency applications per year. The Office of the Pardon Attorney at the Department of Justice and the Deputy Attorney General review these applications in order to make recommendations to the White House on potential pardons."...
Amy Povah, the leader of the CAN-Do Foundation, said she’s pleased with Trump’s recent emphasis on clemency. So far, Trump has issued two prison commutations and five pardons, but the quickening pace is giving aspirants hope. “I have always felt that President Trump would be interested in clemency if he understood the fundamental problem with the Office of the Pardon Attorney being controlled by DOJ,” Povah said. “It's a conflict of interest for DOJ to have final say, which is why some of the best cases never made it to the White House during the Obama administration, like Alice Johnson.”
Margaret Love, who served as U.S. pardon attorney between 1990 and 1997, said she’s also optimistic. “It’s great news that the president may be interested in considering additional cases involving harsh prison sentences,” Love told the Washington Examiner. “President Obama’s clemency program was a good start but he left many deserving cases behind.”
As regular readers may recall, way back in 2010, I urged Prez Obama to structurally change the federal clemency system in this this law review article titled "Turning Hope-and-Change Talk Into Clemency Action for Nonviolent Drug Offenders." I that article I suggested, as a number of commentators have, that the President set up some kind of "Clemency Commission" that would be apart from the work and workings of the Justice Department. It seems that Prez Obama did not really heed my clemency commission advice (though he ended up doing some good clemency work at the very tail end of his Presidency). Here is hoping maybe Prez Trump will engineer some needed structural changes.
A few of many recent related posts about recent Trumpian clemency activity:
- Might Kim Kardashian West actually convince Prez Trump to grant clemency to federal drug offender?
- As Kim Kardashian heads to White House, I hope she advocates for many federal offenders excessively sentenced
- Prez Trump meets with Kim Kardashian to discuss clemency ... and then tweets that he "Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza"
- Prez Trump suggests to reporters there will be more episodes of "Celebrity Clemency"
- "Pardon System Needs Fixing, Advocates Say, but They Cringe at Trump’s Approach"
- Is all the recent Trump clemency action creating (unhealthy?) excitement among federal prisoners?
- Prez Trump reportedly "obsessed" with pardons and "may sign a dozen or more in the next two months"
- Prez Trump now says he is looking at "3,000 names" for possible clemency and will seek more
- Former US Pardon Attorney explains why "Trump’s pardons are really not out of the ordinary"
- Any suggestions for Prez Trump's "growing list of potential pardons or commutations"?
June 11, 2018 at 10:03 PM | Permalink
I support Trump's decision by feeling. It is as good/valid and much quicker than the endless review process by rent seeking, tax thieving lawyer reviewers.
Posted by: David Behar | Jun 12, 2018 12:56:28 AM
I was so happy to see that 20 nonviolent marijuana offenders were on the list. Most of them had sentences of life without parole, were charged with conspiracy and went to trial.
Posted by: beth | Jun 12, 2018 4:53:14 PM