Advocates Hope Obama’s Clemencies will Pave Way for Other Releases

Advocates Hope Obama’s Clemencies will Pave Way for Other Releases

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Department of Homeland Security on his FY2016 budget proposal, on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015, in Washington.  Obama warned congressional Republicans Monday that he won't accept a spending plan that boosts national security at the expense of domestic programs for the middle class. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Obama has granted 43 commutations, compared to President George W. Bush who only commuted 11 sentences during his two terms in the White House. (AP FILE PHOTO/Evan Vucci)

 

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Prisoners’ advocate groups hope President Barack Obama’s decision to grant clemency to nearly two dozen, non-violent drug offenders is just the beginning of a wave of future commutations that would disproportionately impact African Americans held in federal prisons.

“For some years we have needed reform in our criminal justice system,” said Cynthia Roseberry, project manager for the Clemency Project 2014, a network of lawyers and prisoners’ advocates that assist federal prisoners seeking sentence reductions. “This move by the president is one way to fix some of these draconian sentences that were handed down and not corrected through retroactive application of new law and new guidelines.”

In 2014, the Department of Justice announced a new clemency initiative designed to improve the perception of the criminal justice system and promote parity in sentencing. The Justice Department will use six criteria as they prioritize which clemency applications to review. Applicants have to meet the following requirements:

• They 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(s) today;
• They are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large scale criminal organizations, gangs or cartels;
• They have served at least 10 years of their prison sentence;
• They do not have a significant criminal history;
• They have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and
• They have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.

According to The Sentencing Project, a research group that advocates for criminal justice reform, nearly half of the inmates in federal prisons were convicted of drug crimes.

In an issue brief on the drivers of growth in the prison population, researchers with the Urban Institute, an independent research and policy think tank, reported that, “The biggest driver of growth in the prison population is in federally sentenced drug offenders, almost all of whom were convicted of drug trafficking.”

The report continued: “Incarceration for drug offenses disproportionately affects nonwhite offenders: in FY 2013, over 75 percent of all drug offenders in federal prison were Black or Hispanic.”

Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that advocates for reforms to sentencing laws that protect public safety, said that she was thrilled that President Obama was making good on his promise to provide relief for federal prisoners serving excessively long mandatory minimum sentences.

Donel Marcel Clark, a member of FAMM who received clemency last week, had already served more than 20 years of a 30-year prison sentence, “for participating in a nonviolent drug conspiracy, his first and only offense, during a time when his family was facing financial hardship,” FAMM officials noted in a press release.

The release continued: “During his time in prison, Donel has maintained a perfect disciplinary record, earned outstanding work reviews, taken numerous classes, and worked to maintain strong relationships with his children.”
In a letter to Terry Barnes, another one of the prisoner’s granted clemency last week, President Obama wrote that the power to grant pardons and commutations embodies the basic belief in our democracy, that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws. The president also reminded Barnes that he had the capacity to make good choices, even in the face of self-doubt and people that question whether or not he can change.

By making good choices, the president said, Barnes would not only affect his life and those closest to him, but also the possibility that others in his circumstance could get the same second chance that Barnes’ received.
“We hope and expect to see more commutations granted through the end of his term,” said Stewart.

Neil Eggleston, the assistant and counsel to the president, wrote in a blog post that President Obama was building on his commitment to address instances of unfairness in sentencing, Eggleston wrote that President Obama has granted 43 commutations, compared to President George W. Bush who only commuted 11 sentences during his two terms in the White House.

Roseberry said that if you look back at history, there haven’t been many other presidents to grant clemency in this way, noting that the president’s most recent order more than doubled the number of sentences that he had commuted earlier during his tenure as president.

“This is historic,” she added. “By doing this the president has restored hope to so many people and their families who never thought that they would be able to sit down for a meal with each other again, or to embrace each other again, or to re-enter society as a family again. That hope is priceless.”

President Obama granted the following individuals clemency last week:
• Terry Andre Barnes – East Moline, Ill.
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute cocaine base; supervised release violation (distribution of cocaine base) (Southern District of Iowa)
Sentence: 246 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (July 25, 2005)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Theresa Brown – Pompano Beach, Fla.
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine (Southern District of Florida)
Sentence: Life imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Mar. 29, 1995)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Donel Marcus Clark – Dallas, Texas
Offense: Conspiracy; use of a communication facility (five counts); distribution and/or possession of cocaine or manufacturing in or near a school facility, aiding and abetting (Northern District of Texas)
Sentence: 420 months’ imprisonment; four years’ supervised release (Nov. 12, 1993); amended to 360 months’ imprisonment (August 20, 2008)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Ricky Bernard Coggins – Tallahassee, Fla.
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base (Northern District of Florida)
Sentence: Life imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (May 3, 1993)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Samuel Pasqual Edmondson – Junction City, Kansas
Offense: Conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute; possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine (Eastern District of Texas)
Sentence: Life imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Sep. 24, 1997)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Amado Garcia – Fresno, Calif.
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine; aiding and abetting the possession of methamphetamine; aiding and abetting the possession of heroin (District of Wyoming)
Sentence: 240 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release; $2,000 fine (Nov. 29, 2001)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Dwight Anthony Goddard – Decatur, Ga.
Offense: Possession with intent to distribute cocaine base (Middle District of Georgia)
Sentence: 235 months’ imprisonment; five years’ supervised release (Feb. 7, 2002)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Lionel Ray Hairston – Ridgeway, Va.
Offense: Distribution of cocaine base (three counts) (Western District of Virginia)
Sentence: 262 months’ imprisonment; eight years’ supervised release (May 27, 1999)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Francis Darrell Hayden – Loretto, Ky.
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants or 1,000 or more kilograms of marijuana; manufacture of 1,000 or more marijuana plants (Eastern District of Michigan)
Sentence: Life imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Apr. 2, 2002)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Harold Kenneth Herring – Havana, Fla.
Offense: Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base (Northern District of Florida)
Sentence: Life imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Jan. 22, 1998)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Tommie Lee Hollingshed – Memphis, Tenn.
Offense: Distribution of a controlled substance (two counts) (Western District of Tennessee)
Sentence: 324 months’ imprisonment; four years’ supervised release (May 1, 1996)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Derrick DeWayne Johnson – Birmingham, Ala.
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine; possession with intent to distribute cocaine (Northern District of Alabama)
Sentence: 360 months’ imprisonment; four years’ supervised release (Nov. 18, 1998)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to a term of 262 months.
• Robert Martinez-Gil – San Antonio, Texas
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin (Western District of Texas)
Sentence: Life imprisonment (July 9, 1992)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• David Navejar – Brooksville, Fla.
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine (Middle District of Florida)
Sentence: 240 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Jan. 27, 2003)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Rudolph Norris – Washington, D.C.
Offense: Unlawful distribution of cocaine base; unlawful possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of cocaine base (District of Columbia)
Sentence: 360 months’ imprisonment; eight years’ supervised release (Apr. 5, 1993)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Tracy Lynn Petty – Shelby, N.C.
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base (Western District of North Carolina)
Sentence: 240 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Mar. 30, 2006); amended to 204 months’ imprisonment (February 25, 2008)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Luis Razo – Davenport, Iowa
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute cocaine (Southern District of Iowa)
Sentence: 240 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Jan. 3, 2003)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Antwon Rogers – Cleveland, Ohio
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 139.8 grams of cocaine base (Northern District of Ohio)
Sentence: Life imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Jan. 30, 1995)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Herman Rosenboro –Kingsport, Tenn.
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute over five kilograms of cocaine and over 50 grams of cocaine base; distribution of a quantity of cocaine base (two counts); distribution of a quantity of cocaine (two counts) (Eastern District of Tennessee)
Sentence: Life imprisonment; six years’ supervised release (Dec. 3, 2001)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Lawrence Elmo Scott – Lynchburg, Va.
Offense: Distribution of crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school (Western District of Virginia)
Sentence: 283 months’ imprisonment; six years’ supervised release; $4,000 fine (Apr. 8, 2003)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Levar V. Wade – Chicago, Ill
Offense: Possession of 50 or more grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute (Central District of Illinois)
Sentence: 240 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (May 28, 2004)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.
• Eugene Winters – Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute cocaine base (Southern District of Iowa)
Sentence: 240 months’ imprisonment; 10 years’ supervised release (Feb. 23, 2005)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on July 28, 2015.