U.S.: President Obama To Commute Sentences For 8 In Drug Cases

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President Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates convicted of non-violent drug offenses. Deputy Attorney General James Cole released a statement saying that the eight individuals "were sentenced under outdated and unfair laws," and "their punishments did not fit their crime."

Half of the eight whose sentences were commuted had been sentenced to life imprisonment, reports NPR.

The step could lead to a vast expansion of presidential clemency during Obama's last two years in office, reports Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press.

The eight new commutations include Barbara Scrivner, who was sentenced to 30 years in 1995, when she was 27 years old, for a minor rule in her husband's methamphetamine ring. The President ordered Scrivner's sentence to expire on June 12, while the others will expire April 15.

The President commuted the sentences of at least four people who were serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses, reports the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“President Obama today gave several Americans who were unnecessarily sentenced to life behind bars the ability to reunite with their families,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “We hope the President will continue to exercise his constitutional powers and support systemic reform that will make our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, and more humane.”

The ACLU last year released the first-ever study of people serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses in the United States. The report, "A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses," features key statistics about these prisoners, an analysis of the laws that produced their sentences, and case studies of 110 men and women serving these sentences. Of the 3,278 prisoners, 79 percent were convicted of nonviolent crimes.

This year, Attorney General Eric Holder has made a number of forceful public statements against mass incarceration in the U.S., promising significant rollback of mandatory minimums and harsh sentencing guidelines. The Administration also promised improvements in the commutation process, with officials saying they expect the President to grant more clemency petitions in his final two years in office.

"I think there is an awareness out there that this president is interested in granting clemency on these kinds of matters," White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in an interview.

The clemency policy changes aren't limited to drug offenders -- who comprise about half of the roughly 216,000 federal prisoners -- but the qualifications make it clear they are the primary focus.

Yet, despite his Administration’s declared support for substantive criminal justice reform, until now Obama has used his power to grant clemency less frequently than nearly all other U.S. Presidents.

Obama has been under significant public pressure from advocacy groups and family members of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses who are serving long, mandatory minimum sentences.

“It’s wonderful news that Obama has granted clemency to these individuals,” said Anthony Papa, media relations manager for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), who was granted clemency in New York State in 1997 after serving 12 years under the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws. “We hope this is the just the beginning of the President using his executive powers to right the wrongs of the criminal justice system. I hope governors with the same power at the state level follow his lead and reunite more families.”

To be eligible, inmates must have already served at least 10 years, have a nonviolent history, have no major criminal convictions, have a good behavior record in prison, and be serving a sentence that, if imposed today, would be substantially shorter than what they were given at the time.

There is much legislation that the next Congress must move forward with if the country is to address its mass incarceration problem, according to the DPA. Chief among them is the Smarter Sentencing Act. This bipartisan legislation would cut mandatory minimum sentences, expand the "safety valve" to give judges more discretion in sentencing, and would make the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive.

“We can expect that until Congress acts particularly to change mandatory minimum sentences, we will not be able to address the problems of overcrowding in federal prisons through clemency,” said Jeremy Haile of The Sentencing Project, a Washington advocacy group, reports Timothy M. Phelps at the Los Angeles Times. Haile said there are signs the Republican-led Senate may take up changes to the sentencing laws in January.

"The President's actions today are welcome, but they are nowhere near enough," said Michael Collins, policy manager at DPA's office of national affairs. "We need a more wide-reaching clemency project and we need Congress to move quickly on sentencing reform when it comes back in January. It's time to rectify the US's embarrassing record on mass incarceration."

The President granted commutations of sentence to the following eight individuals:

Sidney Earl Johnson, Jr. – Mobile, AL
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base; use of a communication facility to commit a felony (Southern District of Alabama)
Sentence: Life imprisonment; 10 years' supervised release (Apr. 13, 1994)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on June 12, 2015.

Cathy Lee Jones – Portsmouth, VA
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute heroin and cocaine base (Eastern District of Virginia)
Sentence: 262 months' imprisonment; five years' supervised release (Apr. 29, 2003)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

Rickey Marcell McCall – Birmingham, AL
Offense: Possession with intent to distribute in excess of 50 grams of a mixture and substance containing cocaine base; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (two counts) (Northern District of Alabama)
Sentence: Life imprisonment; 120 months' supervised release (Jan. 11, 2001)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

Larry Nailor – Memphis, TN
Offense: Possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute approximately 50 grams of cocaine base (Western District of Tennessee)
Sentence: Life imprisonment; 10 years' supervised release (Nov. 7, 1997)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

Antonio Gromyko Reeves – Kennett, MO
Offense: Distribution of five grams or more of cocaine base (Eastern District of Missouri)
Sentence: 188 months' imprisonment; four years' supervised release (May 21, 2004)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

Jennifer Regenos – Muscatine, IA
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine (Southern District of Iowa)
Sentence: 240 months' imprisonment; 10 years' supervised release (Mar. 25, 2002)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

Barbara Lammsies Scrivner – Portland, OR
Offense: Conspiracy to manufacture, possess with intent to distribute, and distribute methamphetamine; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine (District of Oregon)
Sentence: 360 months' imprisonment; five years' supervised release (July 3, 1995)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on June 12, 2015.

Israel Abel Torres – Dallas, TX
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base (Eastern District of Texas)
Sentence: Life imprisonment; 10 years' supervised release; $1,000 fine (Dec. 4, 1998)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 15, 2015.

The President also granted pardons to the following 12 individuals:

Roy Norman Auvil – Bartonville, IL
Offense: Possession of an unregistered distilling apparatus; working a distillery on which the required sign is not placed (District of South Carolina)
Sentence: Five years' probation (Nov. 16, 1964)

Bernard Bryan Bulcourf – McIntosh, FL
Offense: Counterfeiting Federal Reserve notes (Southern District of Florida)
Sentence: 90 days' confinement in a community treatment center, followed by three years' probation (Nov. 18, 1988)

Steve Charlie Calamars – San Antonio, TX
Offense: Possession of phenyl-2-propanone with intent to manufacture a quantity of methamphetamine (Western District of Texas)
Sentence: 57 months' imprisonment; three years' supervised release (May 31, 1989; as amended Apr. 8, 1994)

Diane Mary DeBarri, fka Diane Mary Wilhelm – Fairless Hills, PA
Offense: Conspiracy to manufacture and distribute methamphetamine; distribution of methamphetamine (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
Sentence: 90 days' imprisonment; five years' probation conditioned on performance of community service as directed by the court (June 15, 1984)

Donnie Keith Ellison – London, KY
Offense: Manufacture of marijuana (Eastern District of Kentucky)
Sentence: Five months' imprisonment; three years' supervised release (Sept. 1, 1995)

John Marshall French – Clovis, CA
Offense: Conspiracy to transport a stolen motor vehicle in interstate commerce (District of South Carolina)
Sentence: Three years' probation conditioned on performance of 100 hours of community service and payment of $2,337 restitution (Mar. 2, 1993)

Ricardo Marcial Lomedico, Sr. – Point Roberts, WA
Offense: Misappropriation of bank funds by an employee (Western District of Washington)
Sentence: Five years' imprisonment (Nov. 21, 1969)

David Raymond Mannix – Lafayette, OR
Offense: Conspiracy to commit larceny; theft of military property (U.S. Marine Corps general court-martial convened at Camp Pendleton, CA)
Sentence: 75 days' confinement; forfeiture of $350 pay per month for three months; reduction to Private First Class, pay grade E-2 (Oct. 18, 1989, as approved Mar. 2, 1990)

David Neil Mercer – Grand Junction, CO
Offense: Archaeological Resources Protection Act violation (District of Utah)
Sentence: 36 months' probation; $2,500 fine; $1,437.72 joint and several restitution (Apr. 9, 1997)

Claire Holbrook Mulford, fka Claire Audrey Holbrook – Flint, TX
Offense: Using a residence to distribute methamphetamine; carrying a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime (Eastern District of Texas)
Sentence: 70 months' imprisonment; two years' supervised release (Dec. 3, 1993)

Brian Edward Sledz – Naperville, IL
Offense: Wire fraud; violation of the Commodity Exchange Act (Northern District of Illinois)
Sentence: One year of probation conditioned on payment of $1,318 costs of supervision and $8,297.91 restitution (Apr. 29, 1993)

Albert Byron Stork – Delta, CO
Offense: Filing a false tax return (District of Colorado)
Sentence: Six months' confinement in a jail-type or treatment institution; three years' probation (May 8, 1987)

Photo of President Obama: International Business Times