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Obama to pardon inmates unfairly sentenced on drug offenses


During the height of the War on Drugs in the 1980s, many individuals were sentenced to very harsh prison terms for drug offenses that were relatively minor and non-violent in nature.

Last year, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would be taking a different approach to non-violent drug offenses, effectively getting rid of some of the mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug crimes.

This week, the attorney general announced that President Obama has expressed a desire to use his pardon power to reduce the sentences of some individuals who are serving many years in prison for non-violent drug crimes.

Specifically, the attorney general said the Justice Department will be looking for individuals who would face shorter prison sentences for drug crimes if they were convicted today than they received in the past.

The goal is “to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety,” he said.

The attorney general did not specify how many people could be eligible for clemency, but said that “[t]he Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences,” and a process to identify clemency recipients is already under way.

He added that the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon will also be considering applications from people who have been convicted of a wider variety of crimes, though he didn’t elaborate on the exact crimes that would be considered.

The attorney general said that the “number of commutations that are granted will depend entirely on the number of worthy candidates,” but that candidates will be considered on a case-by-case basis instead of group determinations.

If you or someone you love was sentenced to a lengthy prison term for a non-violent drug offense, an experienced criminal defense lawyer would be a useful resource to discuss the possibility of submitting a clemency application to the Justice Department.

Source: Politico, “Holder: Obama to dramatically expand drug clemency,” Josh Gerstein, April 21, 2014

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