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May 2, 2018

Might Kim Kardashian West actually convince Prez Trump to grant clemency to federal drug offender?

Download (11)The question in the title of this post is not satire, but a serious inquiry based on this extended Mic report headlined "Kim Kardashian West has talked to White House about pardoning nonviolent drug offender."  Here are excerpts from the report:

Kim Kardashian West and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner have spoken over the phone about a possible presidential pardon for Alice Marie Johnson, a 62-year-old great-grandmother serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense.

The telephone calls, according to a source with knowledge of the conversations, have taken place over the course of the past several months and have picked up in intensity over the last several days.

A representative for Kardashian West confirmed to Mic that she has been in communication with the White House and is working to bring Johnson’s case to the president’s desk. The source with knowledge of the conversations also told Mic that Johnson’s case has been reviewed by White House attorneys.

Johnson, who has been in federal prison since October 1996, has captured international attention from criminal reform activists — and Kardashian West.  Kardashian West first learned about Johnson’s case from a Mic video [available here] published in October.  Kardashian West shared it on Twitter, and the video has since been viewed more than 8 million times.

Shortly after, Kardashian West became involved in trying to free Johnson, who was convicted for her role facilitating communications in a drug trafficking case. In November, Kardashian West enlisted a team of lawyers, including her Los Angeles-based attorney Shawn Holley, to advocate for Johnson’s release.

The two women also have communicated, with Johnson expressing her gratitude toward Kardashian West for her support in a November letter. Still, it appears the only clear path for Johnson’s release would be a presidential pardon or clemency — which could come at odds with Trump’s recent proposal to impose the death penalty for certain drug dealers.

In her October op-ed, Johnson told Mic she became involved in drug trafficking as a way to make ends meet following a particularly rough period in her life: She lost her job at FedEx, where she had worked for 10 years, due to a gambling addiction; she got divorced; and then her youngest son died in a motorcycle accident. “I felt like a failure,” Johnson said. “I went into a complete panic and out of desperation, I made one of the worst decisions of my life to make some quick money. I became involved in a drug conspiracy.”

Johnson was arrested and sentenced to life in prison, with no opportunity for parole. As of May 2018, she has spent over two decades behind bars. For criminal justice reform advocates, Johnson’s case serves as a glaring example of why America’s sentencing laws need reform.

Johnson was one of six prisoners featured in the ACLU’s campaign to end mass incarceration. She has also participated in Skype conversations at top universities including Yale and New York University, as well as at companies such as Google, where Mic first became aware of her story. One of Johnson’s daughters, Tretessa Johnson, told Mic in a video in November that her mother is remorseful and has been a model prisoner during her time behind bars....

President Barack Obama granted clemency to 231 individuals in December 2016, many of whom had similar drug-related charges. Johnson was not one of them. “When the criteria came out for clemency, I thought for sure — in fact, I was certain that I’d met and exceeded all of the criteria,” Johnson told Mic. “Oh my goodness, I had so much support.”

Now, her hope rests with Trump. News of Kushner and Kardashian West’s conversations comes on the heels of multiple reports in recent months that Kushner has been working to pass a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill in Congress, co-sponsored by Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), among others.

For a lot more information about Alice Marie Johnson, check out all the materials assembled here at the CANDO website where she is listed #1 on this list of Top 25 Women who deserve clemency from federal prison.

May 2, 2018 at 10:52 AM | Permalink


Celebrities for quite some time have served a useful role in promoting various causes and if KKW joined this group, more power to her. Not sure if Trump is allowed to grant clemency in a case that isn't FOX News troll bait or the like, but bound to eventually.

Posted by: Joe | May 2, 2018 12:03:37 PM

Possibly good news for Johnson, but the avg inmate will rot in prison. The connected get results, this is not right. As the article states, drug guidelines need to be overhauled.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | May 2, 2018 5:10:08 PM

I think I could support clemency in this case. Two decades seems enough.

Doug, any word on recidivism from Obama's clemency folks?

Posted by: federalist | May 2, 2018 7:12:42 PM

The first thing that comes to mind when one sees a life sentence in a drug case is the mandatory minimums for repeat drug offenders. However, Johnson was a first offender, so that's out. The second thing that comes to mind is the "trial penalty." Clearly this was a factor in this case, for Johnson went to trial and did not get the benefit of a reduction for accepting responsibility. Moreover, it looks like the Sentencing Guidelines -- as well as the length and size of the cocaine conspiracy -- really drove the sentence. Under the 1994 version of the Guidelines, participation in a conspiracy involving 500 to 1,500 kg. of cocaine was assigned a Level 40. Add four points for leadership role and you are suddenly at Level 44, above Level 43 where the Guidelines said life was the only option.

The Sixth Circuit's affirmance of the conviction, 173 F.3d 430 (1999), referred to proof at trial that the conspiracy involved thousands of kilograms of cocaine and grossed millions (for the participants as a group). Johnson might possibly have had a shot at a sentence reduction after Booker made the Guidelines advisory -- I've not dug that deeply into it, to see if she tried -- but her unsuccessful attempt to recuse the judge shortly before trial was ill-advised and may have spoiled any prospect for leniency later on.

What about clemency under Obama's program? Having done three of those (with a .333 batting average), and having compared results with colleagues who've done them, I've come to the conclusion that a lot depended on who the attorney was who was assigned to review the case in the White House counsel's office. There seemed to be a lot of variability that could best be explained that way, and perhaps Johnson just got a bad draw. However, the thrust of the clemency initiative was to afford a measure of mercy to defendants -- often low-level participants -- where the courts had been pushed into unfairly severe sentences by reason of the recidivism provisions in the federal drug laws. The applicant typically needed to show that the sentence would have been less, if it had been imposed under 2015-16 DOJ policies. A sentence that resulted from the straightforward application of the Guidelines is much less vulnerable to an "unfairness" claim.

Posted by: Late Inning Relief | May 2, 2018 7:23:30 PM

You have some good insight Late Inning Relief - I'd also like to know more about the case too, but alas we don't have the PSR to review. Alice mentioned, she "became involved in drug trafficking as a way to make ends meet following a particularly rough period in her life: She lost her job at FedEx, where she had worked for 10 years, due to a gambling addiction; she got divorced; and then her youngest son died in a motorcycle accident. “I felt like a failure." I often wonder is that true, or what "really" happened. I imagine her story is being vetted and so if she were to lie or embellish, that could be problematic. Regardless, life for a first time drug offender seems harsh - no matter the quantity - unless she was working with El Chapo or some other cartel (which we know is likely not the case). I believe she and probably many more like her, should be released - she's done 20 yrs - wow - just typing that makes you wonder how many people committed far more serious crimes and they are already back home.

Posted by: atomicfrog | May 3, 2018 11:29:05 AM

Yes, twenty years is a long time. She's not a sex offender, but that long, even then she is getting broad support. Should be a fair consistent process where you don't need a Kardashian to get commutation before then. See also, the citizen wrongly caught into the immigration detention process, which has been in the news recently.

The Trump policy of selecting a few political pardon/commutation candidates (one exception isn't much of one) as I have argued in the past interferes with long term good policy here. If anything, it makes people cynical, and will hurt worthwhile candidates deserving commutation.

Posted by: Joe | May 3, 2018 1:30:30 PM

Federalist, I don't know about clemency releases, but the statistics from the sentencing commission show that recidivism rates for those who got release under the drug guideline amendments was no higher than those not released early and for some cohorts was a little lower, but probably not lower to a degree that is statistically significant. That fits with what we know from studies that a longer sentence does not have a stronger deterrent effect.

Posted by: defendergirl | May 3, 2018 2:01:11 PM

I am cautiously hopeful, federalist, that the USSC is tracking closely outcomes for the 1715 granted clemency by Obama. Recidivism studies usually use 3 to 5 year intervals, so we a still a bit early for a comprehensive accounting. I am hopeful the recidivism levels are low, but I am certain they will not be zero. (Statistically speaking, a random sample of 1500 adults is likely commit, over a few years, at least a few dozen crimes (and many, many more if we include low-level drug crimes and drunk driving).)

Posted by: Doug B. | May 3, 2018 4:48:31 PM

I am hopeful that every person in whom Obama placed trust honors that trust. I know one has not already.

Posted by: federalist | May 5, 2018 11:54:44 AM

Kim. Weren't your jewels stolen by career criminals in France? You were extremely scared and upset by that. You said that.

Before you begin advocating for the emptying of the prisons, the home address, please. We are sending all the released prisoners to houses around yours, seized under the Kelo doctrine. We are not sending them to poor neighborhoods. Poor people have the same feelings you do. They get scared and upset when they are victimized. They do not get used to it. They get progressively traumatized, instead.

Then before calling someone a non-violent drug offender, do an experiment. Try selling dope in their territory. Non-violent drug offenders are all serial killers of their competitors. Until they were al lin prison, there was an increase of murder in the 1980's and 1990's driven by drug dealer competition. That was the motivation for the mandatory sentencing guidelines. The latter was the greatest lawyer achievement of the 20th Century. These mandatory guidelines dropped crime 40% within 5 years. They saved thousands of black lives. I am sure Black Lives Matter to you, Kim.

Posted by: David Behar | May 5, 2018 12:24:36 PM

Defendergirl. Longer sentences have an incapacitation effect. That is the sole mature and effective purpose of the criminal law.

Rehab is quackery. Deterrence does not exist given the rewards of crime. Retribution is illegal coming from religion. Restitution is a joke.

Posted by: David Behar | May 5, 2018 12:28:09 PM

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