As we've discussed at length on our blog, the draconian mandatory minimum sentencing scheme for federal drug crimes introduced back in the 1980s has long been derided as unduly punitive and exceedingly expensive, sentencing those convicted of nonviolent drug crimes to prison for life or what amounts to life.
Indeed, one needn't look any further than the fact that the federal prison population has grown from less than 25,000 people in 1980 to over 200,000 people today.
While a criminal justice reform bill designed to help rectify this situation has stalled on Capitol Hill and has little chance of advancing during the current term, the Obama Administration has nevertheless vowed to make a difference via the president's clemency authority.
In fact, the president exercised this authority just last week in a historic round of sentence commutations.
How many commutations did President Obama grant?
Last Tuesday, President Obama reduced the sentences of 111 federal inmates convicted of nonviolent drug crimes, including eight Illinoisans. This was in addition to the 214 commutations he granted in early August.
How does this compare against other presidents?
The 325 commutations granted by President Obama last month was the single largest number ever granted in a given month by a U.S. president. In fact, President Obama has now granted 673 commutations, more than the combined total granted by his ten predecessors in the Oval Office.
Who benefited from this latest round of commutations?
The 111 nonviolent drug offenders who saw their sentences commuted are perhaps best exemplified by a man who at just 25 years old was sentenced to life in prison for possession with intent to deliver LSD as he followed the Grateful Dead on tour.
What are the qualifications for being granted clemency?
Those looking to be granted clemency will see their applications submitted to rigorous review by the DOJ. Indeed, only those who meet the following criteria will be considered:
- They must be a nonviolent offender.
- They must have no links to organized crime (gangs, cartels, etc.).
- They must have served at least ten years of their sentence, which would have been lower if handed down today.
- They must have demonstrated good conduct in prison.
Will the President continue to grant these commutations?
Officials with the Obama Administration have indicated that these commutations would likely continue through the end of his term.
Consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible if you have been arrested or are under investigation by federal law enforcement agencies for possible drug-related activities.