President Obama commutes crack cocaine sentences

Eight individuals who had been incarcerated for over 15 years on crack-cocaine charges have reportedly had their sentences commuted by President Obama. Thirteen other individuals have also been pardoned in connection with various federal crimes. The pardons are traditionally done at the end of the year.

Unlike a pardon, commutation of a sentence involves a reduction of legal penalties, particularly of imprisonment. Commutation is oftentimes conditional, and does not nullify the conviction. The eight commutations given by President Obama, it has been noted, fit well with his administration's efforts to lighten up overly harsh drug-sentencing.

In particular, the eight individuals who were pardoned had been subjected to the disproportionate sentences doled out for crack cocaine. That practice was done away with in 2010 when Obama signed a law that ended the disproportionate sentences between crack and powder cocaine.

From another angle, the 2010 law and now the eight commutations are an effort by the Obama administration to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system when it comes to sentencing for federal crimes. Another goal is to lower costs associated with imprisoning federal inmates.

Sentencing is no small aspect of the criminal process. Criminal defense advocacy continues on through the sentencing phase of the criminal process and beyond. A good criminal defense attorney will do everything possible to ensure that their client's sentence is proper and that the judge takes into account all factors that could lead to leniency. Advocacy does not always have the effect of reducing sentences, but it does in some cases.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Obama Commutes Sentences of 8 Jailed on Cocaine Charges," Jarea Favole, December 19, 2013. 

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