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Justice Department Aims to Free Low-level Drug Criminals

Posted by Seth Chazin | Feb 07, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Justice Department is working towards gaining Clemency for low-level drug criminals who were sentenced during the period when there were strict laws around the crack epidemic.

Recently, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole asked defense lawyers to locate prisoners and apply for Clemency . The Obama administration is using clemency as a way to potentially reduce the rise in numbers in our nation's prison system and in particular reduce the effects of the increase in numbers on African-American men.

Black men have more often been charged with crack cocaine offenses(US Code Section 841a)  (US CodeSection 843)  ( US Code Section 844a) ( CA Penal Code 11351)possession or purchase of cocaine for sale  (CA Penal Code 11352) transporting or selling a controlled substance (CA Penal code 11550) being under the influence of a controlled substance  —which carried greater penalties, under state and federal law, than crimes involving powder cocaine, which was used more in white communities. Congress is currently deliberating a bill that would change the sentencing guidelines, which could make up to 12,000 prisoners eligible for a reduced sentence. The proposals set forth in the bill would have a faster and more organized effect than a push for Clemency applications. Some civil rights advocates and lawyers around the nation see the Justice Department as a helping hand if President Obama uses executive power to advance policy goals, which was promised in his recent State of the Union address .

About 30,000 inmates have been incarcerated for low-level crack sentences since 2011. Prison officials will spread the news among inmates that those with low-level nonviolent drug offenses may be able to apply for clemency. This would benefit the Justice department because the prison system makes up 30 percent of the Justice Department's budget.

Julie Stewart, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said, “I'm all for addressing the inequalities of crack cocaine sentences but the best solution is the legislative solution.”

A bill was approved last Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee that allows prisoners who were sentenced under the old rules to request pardons from judges as well. The bill would cut in half mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent drug offenses and get rid of the mandatory minimum for drug offenders without a criminal history. The bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014, is now heading to the Senate with both Republicans and Democrats backing it. It is not clear whether or not this bill will pass but groups are working towards getting officials to consider it.

Clemency would have an impact on the over -population of the prisons across the nation. By removing non-violent drug offenders, not only will many states benefit by having to shell out less money toward prisons, but prison conditions will improve by being able to fund more resources for the prison population. Thousands of people can get their sentences reduced if they go through the clemency process and get the Administration's approval. However, ultimately, it is from legislation like the Smarter Sentencing Act where real and effective change for the better will come about.

For more info: The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014

Clemency for low-level drug offenders

About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson