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May 10, 2011

Updated numbers on President Obama's disgraceful clemency record

Thanks to this post by P.S. Ruckman over at his Pardon Power blog, we now have these updated statistics on how disgracefully stingy President Obama has been in his use of his clemency power.  Here is the data: 

The last 12 presidents have, on average, waited 248 days (.7 years) before granting the first act of federal executive clemency. President Obama waited 682 days (or 1.9 years) before granting a mere 9 pardons.

The last 12 presidents have, on average, waited 338 days (.9 years) before granting the first commutation of sentence. President Obama, who has yet to grant a single commutation of sentence, has waited 834 days (or 2.3 years). No president has been slower to grant a commutation of sentence save George W. Bush!

Obama has received almost 4,000 requests for commutation of sentence and has rejected 1,157.

These numbers would be discouraging even if the federal prison population and the federal budget deficit were not at historic highs.  But I find especially disgusting the failure of the Obama administration to even grant a single commutation to any of the many thousands of persons serving extra-long crack sentences based on the old (now-repealed) 100-1 sentencing ratio that the Obama Administration itself has repeatly said are unfair.  Maybe it is time for those interested in real hope and change in criminal justice policies and practices to start rooting for Newt in 2012.

Some older and newer related posts:

May 10, 2011 at 09:34 AM | Permalink


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Sure, he should grant clemency so the Republicans can crucify him with a Willie Horton or two? Doug, face it; the pardon power is effectively dead for our generation.

Posted by: anon1 | May 10, 2011 10:01:53 AM

Why post such a BIAS and self-promoting agenda driven blog? Gee, you think the author has a personal vendetta against crack cocaine sentences? He thinks every one of them should get clemency, to hell with the Jury verdicts, Judges decisions, and Congress' will.

Posted by: DeanO | May 10, 2011 10:30:51 AM

"to hell with the Jury verdicts, Judges decisions, and Congress' will"

Issuing a sentencing commutation has nothing at all to do with jury verdicts. The person still has a conviction.

Issuing a sentencing commutation in a crack case subjected to 100:1 has nothing to do with a judge's decision. Judges' sentencing decisions were subject to mandatory minimum constraints, and pre-Kimbrough they were forced to follow even the Guidelines.

Issuing a sentencing commutation to reflect the new 18:1 ratio would actually FURTHER Congress's will.

Finally, DeanO, I'm not sure if "vendetta" is the correct word, but, speaking for myself, I do have a very big problem with crack sentences. What's wrong with that? Virtually EVERYONE agrees that 100:1 was wrong and unjust. And it was a good start to implement 18:1. There are too many people currently in prison under the 100:1 ratio who have already served an unduly long sentence. Any attempt to remedy that problem should be welcomed.

Posted by: DEJ | May 10, 2011 11:37:30 AM

Regardless of one's position on Obama's policies, I think there's no doubt that, thusfar, it has been a presidency in a petri dish: policies so carefully ultra-calibrated to not disturb the status quo such that there is very little rippling effect in any direction. His decision to do extremely little in the way of pardons is another example of this, and I think shows a serious lack of political courage.

Posted by: anonymous | May 10, 2011 11:53:30 AM

I imagine that clemency and commutation power, as originally envisioned, was meant to correct individual instances of injustice. However, with a federal criminal justice system as large as it is today and with so many individual petitions to sort through, it's difficult for a President to identify individual injustices that warrant exercise of the power. That's not a justification for Obama's failure on this front, but it may help explain it.

That being said, perhaps the most effective (practical?) use of the clemency and commutation power in modern-times is to generally right the wrong of wide-spread instances of injustice. And on that front, the 100:1 crack sentencing epidemic is tailor made for commutation decisions.

Putting together the desire to analyze every case individually, with the practical end of correcting wide-spread injustices, let me suggest the following example:

It would be a warranted exercise of the commutation power for a President, as a start, to commute the sentence of every crack defendant who was given a 2-level reduction under 3582(c)(2) due to the Commission's crack amendment, and the new sentence after commutation would reflect an 18:1 ratio. In doing so, there would already be an individual determination by an Article III judge that a) the defendant's sentence was driven by the harsh 100:1 ratio, and b) the individual defendant warranted a reduced sentence. Simultaneously, the President would be using his power in a large-scale correction of a wide-spread sentencing problem.

Would this ever happen? Almost certainly not. But, IMO, it would be a nice start.

(BTW, anonymous, I don't agree Obama lacks political courage. He uses his political capital on things he values highly and doesn't choose to do so on things he values less. Any President does that. One may disagree on what is worth (or not worth) spending the capital on, but it's not the case that he doesn't engage in spurts of courage).

Posted by: DEJ | May 10, 2011 12:15:34 PM


With all respect I disagree that difficulty in sorting through the sheer number of applications explains in any way the Obama's decision not to act. I believe his administration and staff are fully capable with the logistics of dealing with applications for clemency.

In terms of political courage, I refer to Obama's own unfulfilled promises that he himself originally identified during his campaign and even in the first few months of his candidacy. Specific policies and overall change he advocated for has gone unfulfilled in many aspects, and he has even backed off altogether on some policies. If he had advocated and run on a program of staying the course, that would have been different. But he ran on a platform of change, and his actions as president on the whole do not show the political courage to carry those forth, in my opinion. And, may I add, I think is very apparent not only on a policy level, but in his power to affect public discourse and debate.

Posted by: anonymous | May 10, 2011 1:11:07 PM

I find nothing disgraceful about it.

Although George W. Bush exercised the power sooner, most of his pardons/commutations were in the most minor, practically meaningless (in the eyes of the public) cases. When he chose to exercise it in a non-trivial case, it was to help out a crony, Scooter Libby.

It is well known that on leaving office, Bush specifically told Obama that he thought the pardon process was “broken.” How right he was!

Pardons are a presidential prerogative, but not an obligation. It is one of many things a president may do, but is not required to do. It would be fine with me if he leaves office having pardoned nobody.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | May 10, 2011 2:26:48 PM

"Specific policies and overall change he advocated for has gone unfulfilled in many aspects, and he has even backed off altogether on some policies."

I absolutely agree. I view this as more about the ability to compromise and know what is realistic, and less about political courage. Being a pragmatist on some issues does not mean one lack's political courage.

So you know where I am coming from, I am disappointed in many of the compromises Obama has made. But perhaps a pragmatist makes a better President than most give them credit for. I think the un-fulfillment of promises comes from a desire to get *something* accomplished, even if it's less than his ideal. Political courage, however, has little to do with it.

"his power to affect public discourse and debate"

Sadly, I don't believe even the most skilled politician, nor any amount of political courage, would have accomplished that in our modern-day environment.

Posted by: DEJ | May 10, 2011 7:12:55 PM

Lets face it, politicians, even Obama isnot going to appear weak on crime.. Its the fastest and surest way to leave office....Or is it....The time is right and the federal budget needs trimming, I would think communting all that got the 2 level drop about now, would be viewed as gutsy...Similar to wacking Usama...Which in my view, really raised Obamas score and in general most Americans....Annon may be right, commutations might be done, but I would hope they aren't....

I would think the 7 extra days of good time credit and HOPEFULLY additional
credits of meaning full value could happen.. But I think its too little too late.
Politicians, Bill, Federalist, DEJ and Kent would sooner see 90% of the nation rot in prison.... All except for Judge Jack Camp isn't that right.. Hes extra special....

Posted by: Josh | May 10, 2011 10:28:02 PM

i was thinking the same thing DEJ and josh

a quick one page order ordering the releae of anyone in this position to take effect immediately would be a bell ringer and would open a lot of eyes as to just how bad it was once the total number of those relased hit the public!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 10, 2011 10:50:42 PM

What would ever cause you to believe and/or assert that I "would sooner see 90% of the nation rot in prison"? That's so far from who I am or the views I hold that it's laughable. Similarly, what in this thread, or any comment I've ever made, would cause you to imply that I would be opposed to 7 more days of good time credit? Or that I supported Jack Camp?! I was and am quite upset at what happened in the Camp case.

If you read my comments, you would see that I actually suggested a mass sentencing commutation of those currently imprisoned who received a crack reduction under 3582 -- an action you described as "gutsy." I've called the 100:1 sentencing scheme unjust and said that 18:1 is just a start in the right direction.

Your inclusion of me in that list of names is so absurd and out-of-place that it *almost* doesn't warrant this reply.

Posted by: DEJ | May 11, 2011 2:59:20 AM

DEJ --

It cracked me up, so to speak, to see that you had joined the Neanderthal Club. You tend to speak in moderate tones, generally steer clear of ad hominem stuff, and reason rather than snarl, and to that extent I am happy to be grouped with you. But Josh's idea that you view criminal justice as Kent, federalist and I do is, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 11, 2011 9:59:37 AM


Sorry, I did include you with the G-Men crew (government view Only) didn't I....I
made an assumption without enough background on you....So your in the clear and I really am not for dong so....Have a nice day..I was wrong.

Posted by: Josh | May 11, 2011 7:21:41 PM

Thanks Bill! We don't often agree, but it's always a good time exchanging comments with you. I would never title that group the Neanderthal Club, but nonetheless it certainly was a case of "one of these things don't belong here."

And thanks Josh for your acknowledgment.

Posted by: DEJ | May 12, 2011 8:38:01 PM

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