Obama Frees Hundreds of Felons. Don’t Buy the Line They’re All Nonviolent.
If the felons Obama is freeing were merely drug dealers, does anyone really believe they would have been sentenced to life in prison for that crime?
Obama commuted the sentences of another round of felons on Wednesday, saying, “All of the individuals receiving commutation today — incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws — embody the president’s belief that ‘America is a nation of second chances.'”
The 214 freed bring the total up to 562 commutations under his administration, more than the past nine presidents combined. The administration referred to it as “the largest batch of commutations on a single day in more than a century.” Of the total sentences he has commuted so far, over 200 were life sentences, including 67 in this last round. Most of the 214 are scheduled to be released on December 1.
However, as I’ve explained before, no one is incarcerated for run-of-the-mill drug crimes like smoking pot. And even sentences that look like they are for drugs or selling drugs are really a way of allowing the prosecutor to give the defendant a break from sentencing him or her to a more serious crime like robbery or theft, which very often accompanies drug crimes.
One of the criminals freed from life imprisonment is Debra Brown, who was charged in December 2010 along with 19 others for participation in a cocaine ring that manufactured and sold both crack and powder cocaine. Obama signed a law in August 2010 reducing disparities in sentencing laws for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine (since harsher laws for crack cocaine disproportionately affected blacks). So it is not clear what “outdated” laws he is referring to that Brown was sentenced under. By the time she was sentenced, Obama had already been in office for two years and changed the sentencing laws.
We may never know — until it’s too late — whether the felons who are being released have a history of violent crime. If they pled down to a lesser charge of drug dealing, any violent history is most likely hidden from the public and even the judge. As a former prosecutor, I saw hundreds of case files when I went to court every week, and usually anyone sentenced to prison for drug dealing had a long rap sheet of violent crimes accompanying it that was hidden from the public, accessible only to law enforcement. To reveal that information publicly is a crime.
The administration intends to release even more felons. “We are not done yet,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said. “We expect that many more men and women will be given a second chance through the clemency initiative.”
Because the Department of Justice has been so politically motivated under this administration, wrongly targeting conservative politicians who had to fight back for years to clear their names, including Rick Renzi, Dinesh D’Souza, Rick Perry, Bob McDonnell, Tom DeLay, Ted Stevens, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, there is a legitimate concern about over-prosecution. However, the solution is not to cherry pick for commutation felons in prison allegedly for drug crimes when they very likely have a long rap sheet. Honorable, ethical conservative leaders like former Arizona Republican Congressman Rick Renzi, who has a long, upstanding record as a kind man who helped others, are still confined, with no hope of commutation from this administration.
Perhaps these 214 people that Obama commuted were all the ultra-rare exceptions — utterly harmless men and a few women with a soft spot for hard drugs and nothing else dangerous or criminal about them. But given the widespread mythology that there are untold thousands of men rotting in U.S. prisons for little more than taking a puff of some illegal narcotic, one has to wonder.