In what many civil rights advocates are calling a bold judicial breakthrough, President Obama on Thursday used his extraordinary executive power to commute the sentences of eight federal inmates — some of whom are black — who were convicted of non-violent crack cocaine offenses – the first time in recent memory that a U.S. president considered cocaine-related cases to offer relief for some inmates who were sentenced to life in prison.

“Today, I am commuting the prison terms of eight men and women who were sentenced under an unfair system,” President Obama said in a statement. “Each of them has served more than 15 years in prison.  In several cases, the sentencing judges expressed frustration that the law at the time did not allow them to issue punishments that more appropriately fit the crime.”

“Three years ago, I signed the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act, which dramatically narrowed the disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses,” Obama said.

“This law began to right a decades-old injustice, but for thousands of inmates, it came too late,” Obama said.  “If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society.  Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.”

Each of the federal inmates has been imprisoned for at least 15 years, and six were sentenced to life in prison. They are eligible for release within 120 days and can move on with their lives. The news was welcome relief for the families of the inmates around the holiday season.

Rev. Al Sharpton, who has been fighting against mandatory minimum sentences for decades, said Obama’s decision to commute the sentences cannot be overstated.

“Today the President of the United States made a significant and major breakthrough in the unfair mandatory sentencing disparities for crack cocaine offenders in this country,” Rev. Sharpton said in a statement.  “President Obama gave a holiday gift that many of us have labored to see, and we celebrate this step towards a more just judicial system”

Sherrilyn A. Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., said her organization applauds President Obama’s decision to commute the sentences of eight people currently serving extraordinarily inflated prison terms for nonviolent crack cocaine offenses.

“The President’s ability to commute sentences is an extraordinary power, and his decision to exercise that power in these cases sends a powerful signal that the White House is committed to reducing mass incarceration and working to restore fairness to the criminal justice system,” Ifill said in a statement.

The President also granted commutations to the following eight individuals:

•       Clarence Aaron – Mobile, Ala.
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine; attempt to possess cocaine with intent to distribute (Southern District of Alabama)
Sentence:  Life imprisonment, five years’ supervised release (Dec. 10, 1993)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014

•              Stephanie Yvette George – Pensacola, Fla.
Offense: Conspiracy to possess cocaine base with intent to distribute (Northern District of Florida)
Sentence:  Life imprisonment, ten years’ supervised release (May 5, 1997)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014

•              Ezell Gilbert – Tampa, Fla.
Offense: Possession with intent to deliver cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute marijuana (Middle District of Florida)
Sentence:  292 months’ imprisonment, five years’ supervised release (Mar. 25, 1997)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to time already served

•              Helen Alexander Gray – Ty Ty, Ga.
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (Middle District of Georgia)
Sentence:  240 months’ imprisonment (Apr. 19, 1996)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014

•              Jason Hernandez – McKinney, Tex.
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute controlled substances; possession with intent to distribute and distribute crack cocaine and methamphetamine; possession with intent to distribute a mixture of methamphetamine and cocaine hydrochloride; distribution of a controlled substance between 1,000 feet of a protected property; establishing a place for manufacture and distribution of controlled substances (Eastern District of Texas)
Sentence:  Life imprisonment; eight years’ supervised release; $5,000 fine (Oct. 2, 1998)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to 240 months (20 years)

•              Ricky Eugene Patterson – Fort Pierce, Fla.
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base (Southern District of Florida)
Sentence: Life imprisonment (Aug. 3, 1995)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014

•              Billy Ray Wheelock – Belton, Tex.
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine; possession with intent to distribute more than 5 grams of crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school; possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine (Western District of Texas)
Sentence: Life imprisonment, 10 years’ supervised release, $3,000 fine (Jun. 9, 1993)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014

•              Reynolds Allen Wintersmith, Jr. – Rockford, Ill.
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute cocaine and cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute crack (Northern District of Illinois)
Sentence: Life imprisonment, five years’ supervised release, $1,000 fine (Nov. 23, 1994)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014

“President Obama today gave several Americans who were unnecessarily sentenced to die behind bars the chance to reunite with their families,” Vanita Gupta, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

“This is one important step toward undoing the damage that extreme sentencing has done to so many in our criminal justice system,” Gupta said. “We hope the President will continue to exercise his clemency powers and lend his support to systemic reform that will make our criminal justice system smarter, fairer, and more humane.”

The President also granted pardons to the following thirteen individuals:
•              William Ricardo Alvarez – Marietta, Ga.
Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin ; conspiracy to import heroin (District of Puerto Rico)
Sentence:  Nine months’ imprisonment, four years’ supervised release (Apr. 30, 1997; amended Jul. 31, 1997)

•              Charlie Lee Davis, Jr. – Wetumpka, Ala.
Offense: Possession with intent to distribute cocaine base; use of a minor to distribute cocaine base (Middle District of Alabama)
Sentence: 87 months’ imprisonment, five years’ supervised release (Mar. 21, 1995)

•              Ronald Eugene Greenwood – Crane, Mo.
Offense: Conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act  (District of South Dakota)
Sentence: Three years’ probation, six months’ home confinement, 100 hours community service, $5,000 restitution, $1,000 fine (Nov. 18, 1996)

•              Joe Hatch – Lake Placid, Fla.
Offense: Possession with intent to distribute marijuana  (Southern District of Florida)
Sentence: 60 months’ imprisonment, four years’ supervised release (May 15, 1990)

•              Martin Alan Hatcher. – Foley, Ala.
Offense: Distribution and possession with intent to distribute marijuana (Southern District of Alabama)
Sentence: Five years’ probation (Nov. 9, 1992)

•              Derek James Laliberte – Auburn, Me.
Offense: Money laundering (District of Maine)
Sentence: 51 months’ imprisonment subsequently reduced to 18 months due to substantial assistance, 2 years’ supervised release (Oct. 2, 1992; amended May 21, 1993)

•              Alfred J. Mack – Manassas, Va.
Offense: Unlawful distribution of heroin  (District of Columbia)
Sentence: 18 to 54 months’ imprisonment (Apr. 5, 1982)

•              Robert Andrew Schindler – Goshen, Va.
Offense: Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud (District of Utah)
Sentence: Three years’ probation, four months’ home confinement, $10,000 restitution (May 14, 1996)

•              Willie Shaw, Jr. – Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Offense: Armed bank robbery (District of South Carolina)
Sentence: Fifteen years’ imprisonment (Aug. 7, 1974)

•              Kimberly Lynn Stout – Bassett, Va.
Offense: Bank embezzlement; false entries in the books of a lending institution (Western District of Virginia)
Sentence: One day imprisonment, three years’ supervised release (including five months home confinement) (Nov. 9, 1993)

•              Bernard Anthony Sutton, Jr. – Norfolk, Va.
Offense: Theft of personal property (Eastern District of Virginia)
Sentence: Three years’ probation, $825 restitution, $500 fine (Apr. 4, 1989)

•              Chris Deann Switzer – Omaha, Neb.
Offense: Conspiracy to violate narcotics laws (District of Nebraska)
Sentence: Four years’ probation, six months home confinement, drug and alcohol treatment, 200 hours’ community service (Jun. 25, 1996)

•              Miles Thomas Wilson – Williamsburg, Ohio.
Offense: Mail fraud (Southern District of Ohio)
Sentence: Three years’ imprisonment (suspended), three years’ supervised release (Jul. 15, 1981)

Margaret Love, a former Justice Department pardon lawyer who represents Clarence Aaron of Mobile, Alabama, who was serving life in prison for intent to sell cocaine, told The New York Times that she received a call informing her of the decision on Thursday morning and called her client, who along with his family was “very grateful.”

“He was absolutely overcome,” Love told The New York Times. “Actually, I was, too. He was in tears. This has been a long haul for him, 20 years. He just was speechless, and it’s very exciting.”

Also On Black America Web:

comments – Add Yours

×
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,737 other followers