Obama: Clemency Guidelines Must be Expanded

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On Monday, Attorney General of the United States Eric Holder released a video in which he called for the expansion of clemency criteria for nonviolent drug offenders. If the clemency guidelines are expanded, it could lead to reduced sentences for hundreds, or even thousands, of convicts currently serving harsh punishments for minor drug violations.

Thus far in his presidency, Obama ranks as the president with the worst pardoning or clemency rate. As of March, President Obama had pardoned 39 people, while denying 1, 333 requests. Obama's clemency rate is even worse, with the odds of one receiving clemency approximately 1 in 5,000.

The video released by Attorney General Holder, however, suggests that President Obama is seeking to institute wide-scale clemency in his latter days as president with this new change in the clemency guidelines:

"The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety... The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences."

The video from Holder corroborated the message given by Obama during his December clemency of eight people languishing under too-strict laws against crack-cocaine:

“There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime — and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime. This is simply not right,” stated Holder.

This news comes on the heels of Obama granting clemency for a man who had served too many years in prison due to a simple typo in his sentencing. Ceasar Cantu's sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering was reduced from 15 to 11.5 years following Obama's pardon. The mistake in sentencing was caught by Cantu's attorneys, but after the one year statute of limitations had passes on challenging such issues.

Kathryn Ruemmler, an attorney who currently serves as White House Counsel, feels that Obama's attempt to expand his clemency powers is a result of two different factors: "The president believes that one important purpose can be to help correct the effects of outdated and overly harsh sentences that Congress and the American people have since recognized are no longer in the best interests of justice. This effort also reflects the reality that our overburdened federal prison population includes many low-level, nonviolent offenders without significant criminal histories."

The move by Obama to expand the clemency criteria comes four years after his passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, legislation which meant to reduce the disparity between those convicted for crack-cocaine as opposed to power-cocaine.

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