Personal Liberty Digest™ will be upgraded this weekend to reflect a dynamic new look and mobile-friendly viewing to enhance your experience! Plus, we'll be providing even more of the compelling content you've come to expect, delivered in a whole new way!

  Comments Subscribe to Personal Liberty News Feed Subscribe to Personal Liberty
 

The Sweeping Presidential Power To Help Prisoners That Holder Didn’t Mention

August 15, 2013 by  

This ProPublica Article by Cora Currier, published Wednesday, examines the Obama Administration’s Spartan invocation of the power of the Presidential Pardon, alongside Attorney General Eric Holder’s arbitrary interpretation of his own promise to get “smart on crime.” Taken together, they demonstrate a mystifying take on Americans’ due process and civil liberties; one that veers closer to totalitarianism than to liberalism in its classic sense.

 

by Cora Currier

This week, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against the impacts of “draconian” sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” said Holder.

But in unveiling the new “smart on crime” initiative, Holder skipped mention of the sweeping power the president has to shorten or forgive a federal prisoner’s sentence.

President Obama has given just one person early release from prison. As ProPublica has documented, Obama has overall granted clemency at a lower rate than any modern president, which includes both commutations – early release – and pardons. Last year, ProPublica reported that the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney rarely gives positive clemency recommendations to the president. Experts have been calling for reform of the entire clemency process.

“Holder’s speech begs the question, why is not more attention given to the broken pardons office?” said Robert Ehrlich, a former Republican governor of Maryland who recently started a law clinic devoted to pardons.

One person who is still waiting to hear about his petition for commutation is Clarence Aaron. He has been in prison since 1993, when he was sentenced to three life terms for his role in a drug deal. Aaron was not the buyer, seller, nor supplier of the drugs. It was his first criminal offense.

The White House ordered a fresh review of Aaron’s petition last year after ProPublica found that the  pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers, had misrepresented Aaron’s case when it was brought to President George W. Bush. An Inspector General’s report released in December supported ProPublica’s findings, and referred the incident to the Deputy Attorney General to determine if “administrative action is appropriate.”

Nine months later, Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle says the “issues raised in the report are still being examined.”

In his speech, Holder expressed concern about racial disparities in sentencing and treatment of prisoners. In 2011, a ProPublica investigation found that whites were four times as likely to receive pardons as minorities. Following our story, the Justice Department commissioned a study on racial disparities in pardons. Hornbuckle says that study is “ongoing.”

“The clemency process will need to be invigorated both from the bottom up and the top down,” said Jeffrey Crouch, a professor at American University, who wrote a book on pardons. “One step is the pardon attorney giving applicants a fair review and a positive recommendation. The other step is President Obama being more willing to use his pardon power.”

For now, Holder’s initiative has little to offer prisoners already behind bars. He directed prosecutors to avoid charges that carried mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level, nonviolent drug offenders and urged the passage of legislation to change those sentencing requirements. But in 2010, there were more than 75,000 people in federal custody that had been given mandatory sentences.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls asking, does this mean my loved one gets to go home?” said Molly Gill, government affairs counsel at Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “For the vast majority of people it doesn’t change their sentences and it isn’t retroactive.” (Holder did expand “compassionate release” for some elderly prisoners.)

While clemency does not generally reach wide swaths of prisoners, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter used it to affect policy on a larger scale, creating programs to forgive thousands of Vietnam War draft evaders.

In the 1960s, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy also took a stand against what he described as “grossly unjust” outcomes of sentencing practices – and used commutations to do so. He directed federal prison wardens to seek out and bring him prisoners deserving of early release. Kennedy acknowledged that presidential commutations were “at best only stop-gaps” in a sentencing regime that needed reform. President John F. Kennedy commuted 100 sentences in total, and President Lyndon B. Johnson 226.

Mark Osler, a law professor at St. Thomas University who runs a clinic on commutations, said Obama could also do more. “Holder’s emphasis on how wrong these laws have been, and how damaging the Justice Department’s enforcement of those laws has been, gives me hope that this only the first step,” Osler said.

ProPublica

is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. The organization’s work focuses exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” ProPublica seeks to produce journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them. ProPublica is headquartered in Manhattan. Its establishment was announced in October 2007. Operations commenced in January 2008, and publishing began in June 2008. http://www.propublica.org/

Facebook Conversations

Join the Discussion:
View Comments to “The Sweeping Presidential Power To Help Prisoners That Holder Didn’t Mention”

Comment Policy: We encourage an open discussion with a wide range of viewpoints, even extreme ones, but we will not tolerate racism, profanity or slanderous comments toward the author(s) or comment participants. Make your case passionately, but civilly. Please don't stoop to name calling. We use filters for spam protection. If your comment does not appear, it is likely because it violates the above policy or contains links or language typical of spam. We reserve the right to remove comments at our discretion.

Is there news related to personal liberty happening in your area? Contact us at newstips@personalliberty.com

Bottom
close[X]

Sign Up For Personal Liberty Digest™!

PL Badge

Welcome to PersonalLiberty.com,
America's #1 Source for Libertarian News!

To join our group of freedom-loving individuals and to get alerts as well as late-breaking conservative news from Personal Liberty Digest™...

Privacy PolicyYou can opt out at any time. We protect your information like a mother hen. We will not sell or rent your email address to anyone for any reason.