On December 19, President Barack Obama pardoned 78 people and reduced the sentences of an additional 153 people, the largest number of individual clemencies given by a United States president in a single day and bringing his total up to 1,176. In addition, with this act, the president has officially more than doubled the number of pardons he has given in his eight years in the oval office. Before Monday, he had given 70.
It is important to note that pardons are distinctly different from a reduction or commutation of a sentence. Complete pardons forgive a crime, restoring a citizen's right to vote, future ability to hold local or state office, and ability to sit on a jury. In contrast, with a commutation of a sentence, the individual convicted of a crime remains a convicted criminal and their rights after being released are still limited. Their sentence, however, is generally reduced.
According to the New York Times, of the hundreds of recipients of pardons and reduced sentences on Monday, “virtually all had been serving sentences under tough antidrug laws, including those convicted of low-level, nonviolent crimes like possession of cocaine.” The Chicago Tribune likewise notes that President Obama “has focused primarily on shortening sentences of those convicted of drug offenses rather than giving pardons.”
395 of the people that Mr. Obama has pardoned or reduced the sentences of during his term as president had previously been serving life sentences, many for nonviolent drug charges. Tim Lynch, director of Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice opined that "Obama is smart to focus on drug-related offenses. More and more people are coming to the conclusion that the drug war was a mistake, like alcohol prohibition was a mistake."
One of the people whose nonviolent drug offenses were pardoned was Ramon Escalera Sanchez of Cheney, Washington, who was imprisoned for 27 months after being convicted in 2003 for possession with intent to distribute of less that 500 grams of cocaine. Another woman, Shari Dee Trompke of Grand Island, Nebraska, was convicted in 1997 for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, and served three years in prison with five years of supervised release.
According to White House counsel Neil Eggleston, most of the people who received the president's pardon or sentence commutation had been contributing positively to their community and improving themselves since their conviction. This includes participating in vocational training, rehabilitation courses, and continuing education along with community service. Eggleston commented that “The 231 individuals granted clemency today have all demonstrated that they are ready to make use – or have already made use – of a second chance.”
Unfortunately, even though President Obama has granted more clemencies that the majority of US presidents in recent history, a chance at a presidential pardon is rare. It is always best to fight to avoid conviction or achieve a sentence that does not involve jail time or heavy fines. If you or a loved one have been charged with a drug-related crime, get help today. Call the law offices of Steve Karimi at 206-621-8777 or contact us online.