As part of an effort to undo the damage caused by years of bad mandatory minimum sentencing laws for federal drug cases the Obama administration has announced a new clemency initiative.
Federal inmates who meet the administration’s six criteria will potentially have their sentences commuted by the President. The most likely beneficiaries will be non-violent drug offenders since they tended suffer the most as a result of mandatory minimums. From Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole:
We are launching this clemency initiative in order to quickly and effectively identify appropriate candidates, candidates who have a clean prison record, do not present a threat to public safety, and were sentenced under out-of-date laws that have since been changed, and are no longer seen as appropriate. While those sentenced prior to the Fair Sentencing Act may be the most obvious candidates, this initiative is not limited to crack offenders. Rather, the initiative is open to candidates who meet six criteria: they must be (1) inmates who are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today; (2) are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels; (3) have served at least 10 years of their sentence; (4) do not have a significant criminal history; (5) have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and (6) have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.
To advance this initiative the administration will also work to make sure all federal inmates who meet these criteria are offered the assistance of an experienced pro bono attorney to help prepare their applications. In addition more lawyers will be temporarily detailed to the Pardon Attorney’s Office to deal with the increased work load this will cause.
We will need to wait to see how effective the initiative actually ends up being but it currently looks very promising.