Obama Administration Breaks 1,000 Commutations Threshold (VIDEO)

by Scott Shackford – Another 79 granted mercy over federal drug war sentences. It took almost his entire presidency to get it rolling, but President Barack Obama will have ended his term granting more than 1,000 federal prisoners mercy from incredibly long federal sentences placed on them due to severe drug war laws. The president took to Facebook to announce another 79 commutations. He used the story of Ramona Brant, who was indicted and imprisoned for life over her relationship with a man who was involved in a drug ring. She was released back in February and filmed a video talking about her experiences earlier in the year. Obama commented on Facebook: Ramona’s story should serve as a reminder to all of us that we need to reform the sentencing laws for drug crimes in this country. It makes no sense for a nonviolent drug offender to be serving decades, or...

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Obama Shortens 102 Sentences, Including 33 Life Terms for Nonviolent Drug Offenses

by Jacob Sullum – The president has granted 774 commutations so far, 97 percent of them in the second half of his second term. The crime that sent Ricky Minor to federal prison for life involved a little more than a gram of methamphetamine, plus supplies for making more: pseudoephedrine pills, acetone, matches, and lighter fluid. There was no evidence that he made meth for anyone but himself and his wife, and under Florida law he probably would have received a sentence of two or three years. But a series of nonviolent drug offenses, none of which resulted in prison time, made him a “career offender” under federal law, triggering a mandatory life sentence for attempting to manufacture methamphetamine. “I was sitting in the courtroom when it happened,” Minor’s mother recalled in an interview with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “and it was all I could do to stay seated...

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Obama Announces New Round of Commutations (VIDEO)

by Scott Shackford – The deadline is rapidly approaching for federal prisoners to request mercy The White House announced a new round of presidential commutations, 58 of them, of people in federal prison for drug crimes. The announcement came from President Barack Obama himself in a somewhat self-congratulatory post on Medium. (but then, aren’t self-congratulatory posts Medium’s stock in trade?) He notes that he has commuted the sentences of 306 individuals, more than the last six presidents combined. He writes: While I will continue to review clemency applications, only Congress can bring about the lasting changes we need to federal sentencing. That is why I am encouraged by the bipartisan efforts in Congress to reform federal sentencing laws, particularly on overly harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Because it just doesn’t make sense to require a nonviolent drug offender to serve 20 years, or in some cases, life, in...

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Supreme Court Makes Important Mandatory Minimum Ruling Retroactive

by Scott Shackford – Some in federal prison may see sentence reductions A Supreme Court decision yesterday may help a number of inmates currently in federal prison reduce their sentences if they were convicted of a narrow set in crimes. The Supreme Court heard Welch v. United States in March and ruled on the case in less than a month. That’s a quick turnaround for them, but that is likely because this case was clarifying the outcome of another case decided in June 2015. In that initial case, Johnson v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled, 8-1, that a particular mandatory minimum sentencing trigger of the federal Armed Criminal Career Act of 1984 was unconstitutionally vague and tossed it. But just because a court ruling changes sentences doesn’t necessarily mean mercy for those who are already serving time. The Welch case was to determine whether this sentencing change should be retroactive. The justices...

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Playing Into Racial Fears, Politico Suggests Obama May Have Released ‘A New Willie Horton’

by JUDD LEGUM – A change to the federal sentencing guidelines enacted last year has resulted in the release of about 4,300 prisoners from federal custody beginning this week. Most of those impacted were Hispanic and African-American men imprisoned for low-level drug trafficking crimes. This is how Politico is covering the story: The headline refers to an infamous television ad from the 1988 presidential campaign. The ad, produced by supporters of George H.W. Bush, blamed Michael Dukakis for granting Willie Horton a weekend furlough. Horton, who had previously been convicted of murder, did not return to prison and was subsequently accused of raping a woman. The ad is credited with shifting the momentum of the 1988 campaign. But it was also roundly criticized for playing upon racial fears. It was seen as a modernized version of the “Southern Strategy,” where fears about black men are used to persuade white voters....

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4 Prisoners Obama Should Consider Freeing As Part Of His Clemency Push

by AVIVA SHEN – The New York Times reported  that President Obama is readying another wave of clemency grants for nonviolent drug offenders who have served disproportionately lengthy sentences in prison. The administration may commute the sentences of dozens of federal inmates over the next month. Despite renewed public scrutiny on mass incarceration, the Obama administration has been unusually stingy in granting pardons and clemency to federal inmates. The administration touts the fact that Obama has commuted 43 sentences, more than the 11 commuted by George W. Bush and the 13 by Reagan. But he has granted just 64 pardons, compared to 189 prisoners pardoned by Bush and 396 pardoned by Clinton. A presidential pardon wipes a criminal conviction from an inmate’s record, affording them certain civil liberties like restored voting rights and the right to own firearms. The administration has been promising a clemency push over the past year, soliciting...

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Bobby Jindal Signs Bills Reducing Pot Penalties and Authorizing Cannabis for Patients

by Jacob Sullum – Louisiana’s marijuana laws, among the harshest in the country, become a bit less harsh This week Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed bills that reduce his state’s marijuana penalties, heretofore among the harshest in the nation, and establish a system for supplying cannabis to patients suffering from certain medical conditions. The latter law, which may take a couple of years or more to fully execute, makes Louisiana the first Southern state to legalize medical marijuana (as opposed to low-THC, high-CBD extracts of the plant) and create a supply mechanism for it. The New Orleans Times-Picayune notes that “Jindal did not issue a press release explaining why he signed the bills or offer any commentary about the importance of the two bill signings.” But the fact that Jindal felt comfortable signing two marijuana reform bills while running for the Republican presidential nomination reflects how far the drug policy debate has...

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Ex-Blackwater Guards Handed Lengthy Prison Terms

One former US security guard given life sentence and three others receive 30-year terms for 2007 deadly Iraq shooting A federal court in Washington, D.C. has sentenced a former Blackwater security guard to life in prison and three others to 30 years in jail for their roles in a 2007 shooting that killed 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad and caused an international uproar. Nicholas Slatten received a life sentence for first-degree murder, while Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough were imprisoned for charges that included manslaughter. The ex-guards were convicted in October after a long legal fight over the deadly attack at the crowded Nisoor traffic circle in downtown Baghdad . US District Judge Royce Lamberth announced the sentences after a day-long hearing at which defence lawyers had argued for leniency, and prosecutors asked that those sentences, the minimums mandatory under the law, be made even harsher. ‘Without justification’ In a statement, the US...

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