President Barack Obama has commuted sentences of 42 drug offenders who were convicted during the war on drugs. Approximately half of the 42 are serving life sentences, and most are nonviolent offenders. When Obama granted clemency to the group of 42 on Friday, the total number of sentences he commuted is now 348.
The White House reported that the president has commuted more sentences than the past seven presidents combined, per ABC News. The pace of commutations and pardons will increase as Obama nears the end of his presidency. White House counsel Neil Eggleston explained Obama’s reasons for using his clemency power.
“He remains committed to using his clemency power throughout the remainder of the administration to give more deserving individuals that same second chance.”
Obama has vowed to continue commuting sentences during his final months in office. In March, he shortened the sentences of 61 drug offenders, and in May, he freed an additional 58. Thousands applied for consideration under the president’s clemency program, and now, 9,000 more applications are pending, per The Hill.
Criminal justice advocates have pressured the White House to commute more sentences as Obama only has seven months before his time in the White House ends.
A Utah man, who became a symbol of what some say is the unfairness of mandatory minimum sentences, has been released from prison after 13 years. Weldon Angelos was released on Tuesday and returned home to family in the Salt Lake Valley. The court granted a reduction in sentence, but it’s not clear why because part of the federal case is now sealed, according to Fox 13.
— Cannabis Cheri (@CannabisCheri) June 4, 2016
In 2004, Angelos was sentenced to a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence for selling marijuana. The case was widely viewed as unjust–even by the judge who imposed the sentence. Former U.S. District Court Judge Paul Cassell cited the Angelos’ case as one of the reasons he left his position. Cassell later sent Obama a letter asking for Angelos’ release.
When Angelos was sentenced, his youngest child was an infant. Meranda is now 13, and Angelos also has two sons, Anthony, age 19, and 17-year-old Jesse. Angelos surprised his children by appearing at his sister’s home. Angelos himself was shocked as he did not expect to be released so soon. However, Obama didn’t commute Angelos’ sentence, and the reason he was released remains unknown, added Fox 13.
In May, Ramona Brant’s life sentence was commuted by Obama, and she also had the opportunity to meet with him, noted CNN. She stated that her sentence for conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine was not proportionate to the crime. Brant was in a relationship with an abusive drug dealer, but domestic violence reports and the testimony of family and friends were never entered into court by her public defender.
Upon release, Brant was greeted by many. She then went to have a meal with family and looked forward to meeting her grandchildren for the first time. When convicted in 1994, Brant left two sons, ages three and four behind, per CNN.
“We were sentenced under the drug laws, and it was the war on drugs, so it’s like a POW in your own country. It takes someone with compassion like the President to see the injustice and right the wrong that was committed to so many of us. And there are so many more that are in the prison system — we want to reach back and pull them out.”
Obama said legislators in both parties agree that federal sentencing laws should be overhauled as policies now require lengthy sentences and life imprisonment for minor drug offenses. In a speech last year, the president said the sentences don’t fit the crimes, according to USA Today.
“If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society. You have to be held accountable and make amends — but you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid.”
— Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) June 4, 2016
In some districts, policies have changed. The White House added that some who recently had their sentences commuted would have already been released from prison under the new laws.
[Photo by Chris Somodevilla/Getty Images]