Obama Commutes Sentences in Crack Cocaine Cases

Pushing back against the country's strict drug sentencing laws

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Updated at 3:29p.m. EST, Dec. 19 

President Barack Obama moved Thursday to speed the release of eight federal prisoners serving lengthy terms for crack cocaine offenses, in his most aggressive push against the country’s strict drug sentencing laws.

Obama said he was granting clemency to the eight inmates and commuting their sentences, and that he would also give pardons to 13 convicts who have already been released. He said he would retroactively apply new sentencing guidelines and drug laws to the eight convicted felons who are still serving time, and six will be released by April 17. Under current law, Obama said, “many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society.”

“Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness,” Obama said in a statement. “But it must not be the last. In the new year, lawmakers should act on the kinds of bipartisan sentencing reform measures already working their way through Congress. Together, we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all.”

The sentencing new guidelines, which Attorney General Eric Holder announced over the summer, had already been applied to pending cases, but this action is the first to apply them retroactively for inmates already behind bars. Six of the eight inmates whose sentences are being commuted by Obama were on death row, and all of them had served longer than 15 years.

“Because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year,” Obama said.

Earlier this year, Obama and the Department of Justice announced new guidelines for applying mandatory minimum sentences to federal drug cases. Now, if the case involves a non-violent, low-level defendant who is not connected to a drug cartel or gang, it is up to the judge whether or not to apply the mandatory minimum sentence.

Thursday’s announcement was the latest in a series of actions the Obama administration has taken on criminal justice reform, especially as it relates to crack and powder cocaine. In 2011, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law, which reduces the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

Obama also pardoned 13 people whose sentences have already been completed. The President has faced criticism for having only pardoned 39 people since he took office in 2009.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, both praised and condemned the President for his actions on Thursday.

“Kudos to President Obama for commuting these eight people. But shame on the President for not commuting many more,” Nadelmann said in a statement. “With over 100,000 people still behind bars on non-violent drug charges, clearly thousands more are deserving of the same freedom. Congress should act immediately to reduce the draconian federal mandatory minimum sentences that condemn thousands to decades behind bars for non-violent drug offenses.”

-with reporting by Zeke Miller 

Update: This post was updated to include the quote from Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. 

11 comments
DaveMajkowski
DaveMajkowski

Richard Wershe Jr is serving a LIFE sentence for one non-violent drug charge he got when he was a minor (17 years old) back in May of 1987. Three years prior at the age of 14 yrs old Rick was recruited by Federal Agents, DEA and the Detroit police to work as an undercover drug informant. Free Rick Wershe!!!

http://www.deadlinedetroit.com/articles/6344/michigan_parole_board_s_crime_against_white_boy_rick

http://www.thefix.com/content/story-white-boy-rick-richard-wershe-detroit-corruption70041?page=all

http://www.theoaklandpress.com/articles/2013/07/13/news/local_news/doc51e1d832e4707481873639.txt?viewmode=fullstory

https://www.facebook.com/freewhiteboyrickwershe
http://freerickwershe.com/Home_Page.html
https://twitter.com/freerickwershe
http://www.change.org/petitions/free-white-boy-rick-wershe

Letter from Ex Detroit cop - https://sphotos-a-iad.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-frc1/76647_10151152598368558_295049953_n.jpg

Letter from a former Federal agent who worked with Rick:
 Page 1: https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/9311_10151152598418558_1532565032_n.jpg
 Page 2: https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash2/552411_10151152598473558_1538415208_n.jpg
 Page 3: https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/197393_10151152598523558_1957473128_n.jpg
 Page 4: https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/400232_10151152598273558_1473341454_n.jpg

http://articles.latimes.com/1991-05-23/news/mn-3263_1_detroit-police
http://www.nytimes.com/1991/02/12/us/detroit-police-chief-and-former-deputy-charged-with-theft.html
http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/08/us/former-detroit-police-chief-convicted-of-embezzlement.html

TamikaEngaged
TamikaEngaged

Drug dealer should have their time lessen

Rapists and murders should fill the jails and prison

Team Obama free more drug offenders

In Jesus name Amen

grape_crush
grape_crush

But if we relax sentencing guidelines for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, who are we going to get to fill up all these prisons?

I mean, the Corrections Corporation of America has profit targets to meet!

ThomasHall
ThomasHall

I am sure the snarky reich-wingers will weigh-in. Compare the dug sentences to the deregulated banks whose subprime mortgage fraud took down Wall St., the job-creating housing market, took $15 trillion from Americans household wealth, 4+ million homes, 9 million jobs on top of the five million manufacturing jobs shipped overseas or to mexico under Bush-Cheney along with $400 billion in uncollected taxes from thousands of corporate tax dodges.

Notice that none of the corrupt banksters or the tax avoiding corporate execs ever goes to jail while making huge profits and bonuses.

alurlyrx
alurlyrx

I guess it's par for the course. If they're not selling drugs, they would be on BO welfare. Might as well let them return to their gangs and violence instead of being supported in prison. Hopefully, they'll die before they generate offspring for the taxpayers to support.

TamikaEngaged
TamikaEngaged

No rapist and murder ppl should fill the prisons

Team Obama get with it

jmac
jmac

@alurlyrx If you sniff it up your nose is it okay?   Those that run a line are fine as long as they're Johnny Carson and have money?  In other words, you want them in jail because they're poor, not because of what they're doing.    


How about helping them get out of poverty and educate them so we'll all be better off?   We help them; we help their kids; we help ourselves.    It's really not rocket science.   

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@jmac @alurlyrx They are poor because their income goes to drugs. You want to get them out of poverty ? Good instead of wasting your time making useless comments here why dont you volunteer your time and money to drug rehab centers. They could use your help and cash. Oh, dont forget. Bring your tin foil hat along. 

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@jmac @ReneDemonteverde @alurlyrx I know that. But I do see a great potential in yo Jmac. Great potential, you are not even aware of it yet. You might even outdo me. If volunteering is good why dont you start now ? Stop wasting your valuable time talking to people wearing tin foil hats.

jmac
jmac

@ReneDemonteverde @jmac @alurlyrx You can't pass that tin foil hat to me, Rene.  You own it lock, stock and barrel.  


Volunteering at rehab centers is all well and good.   So is going around your neighborhood collecting food for the poor.   Gives you goose bumps all over, but it doesn't address the problem.