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November 28, 2011

"One prisoner worthy of presidential pardon"

The title of this post is the headline of this commentary by Debra Saunders, which makes this pitch:

[Last] Monday, the president finally got serious.  He issued five pardons, but also his first (and only) commutation.  The recipient, Eugenia Jennings of Illinois, was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2001.  That's a long sentence, you might think; Jennings must have been a true crime kingpin to have rated such treatment from federal authorities.  To the contrary, the 23-year-old mother got that hard time for selling 13.9 grams of crack cocaine  — about the size of six sugar packets — to a confidential police informant.

Because Jennings sold crack — not powder — cocaine, a federal judge was required to boost her prison time. Because Jennings had been prosecuted twice previously for dealing small amounts of crack, the feds pegged her as a career criminal, another sentencing add-on. Thus the federal government used its awesome weight to bring to heel a pathetic young drug-addicted woman.

The Department of Justice did not elaborate as to the thinking behind Obama's commutation. But Families Against Mandatory Minimums issued a news release with a few hints. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., advocated for her release. Jennings, who is African American, has been diagnosed with cancer, but has been responding well to treatment. When she is released Dec. 21, she will be able to see her eldest daughter graduate from high school....

I have an even worse criminal-justice horror story.  In 1993, Clarence Aaron received three sentences of life without parole as a first-time nonviolent drug offender.  Aaron broke the law and earned time in prison.  But he received a longer sentence because he didn't know enough to turn on the bosses behind two large cocaine deals.  He foolishly pleaded not guilty and lied under oath.  Because the buyer had planned to convert the powder cocaine into crack, his sentence was extended....

Molly Gill of Families Against Mandatory Minimums believes Eugenia Jennings is an "extraordinary case."  But also, Gill says, Obama should be "bold" and "unafraid" to do more. "This isn't political scandal, it's just doing justice."

Aaron has taken responsibility for the actions that put him in prison.  He has a good prison record, and he's ready to start leading a normal life among a supportive and anxious family.  Readers of this column know how tough I can be on violent career criminals. Vicious crimes deserve serious time.  But career criminals aren't doing hard time, their small-time subordinates are.  Besides, it is obscene that a young African-American man will spend the rest of his natural life in prison for a nonviolent, first-time offense committed when he was 23 years old.

Next month, Aaron will have spent 18 years in prison. As his commutation application notes, Aaron shows promise to be a law-abiding citizen, but he "continues to serve his life sentences, while all those who testified against him are now out of jail."  President Obama should free him.

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November 28, 2011 at 10:00 AM | Permalink


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Somehow I think that Jennings will not be long out of prison. Think of how much drug dealing you have to do to get convicted three times for the same offense. You gogo leftists just don't deal in reality.

Posted by: Federale | Nov 28, 2011 1:29:38 PM

Why is it relevant that Aaron is African-American?

Posted by: federalist | Nov 28, 2011 3:57:50 PM

I so agree with this post. Clarence Aaron was a victim of "snitching" or what they call "substantial assistance." His only crime was to introduce his cousin, a drug dealer, to another person he knew, also a drug dealer. Together the two conspired to take drugs out of state and when caught, they named Clarence as the organizer.

I know of another person whose sentence should be commuted. His name is Ivan Eberhart, a father of 5 who was a gainfully-employed, tax-paying citizen who never did drugs nor sold them. He, too, was a victim of a snitch, only this person admitted he lied and therefore was not given the benefit of substantial assistance nor was he allowed to come to court to testify in Ivan's case. But commutations are not about wrongful convictions, so those aren't the reasons he should be released. His sentencing judge - Judge James Zagel, gave all the reasons when he wrote a letter to the Pardons Attorney supporting Ivan's release. He stated that he had tried to give Ivan a new trial after he found that the government had used unreliable evidence to support a thin case. He said between the 6 years Ivan was awaiting a decision on his appeal, he was out on bond and led an exmpliary life. Ivan's pastor also wrote a letter about how Ivan was a role model in the church, a choir member and he created a basketball team for the young men of the church. His appellate attorney, Len Goodman as well as Lawrence Marshall, who partnered with Len on the Supreme Court petition, plus State Senator Constance Howard and 25 other relatives, friends and former employers wrote letters. Since his incarceration, Ivan has completed a paralegal course, has received over 30 merit certificates from Oxford Prison Camp, is presently pursuing an Associates Degree in business management from Ashworth College, as well as a diploma from Penn Foster in Small Business Management, directs the choir at Oxford and started a prayer group (where none existed when he came) and inmates are receiving prayer requests from relatives all over because of the miraculous results of the prayer.

Posted by: msyoung | Nov 28, 2011 5:00:22 PM

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