Post Date: December 3, 2013
Another Thanksgiving has passed without a presidential commutation for Clarence Aaron, who, at age 24, was sentenced to life without parole for a first-time nonviolent drug conviction in 1993.
President Barack Obama has the unfettered power to pardon ex-cons and commute the sentences of federal inmates. Yet this term, he has used that power to commute the sentences of turkeys only — no people, even though the American Civil Liberties Union figures that close to 2,000 nonviolent offenders are serving sentences of life without parole in federal prisons.
Aaron was not a buyer or a seller but a facilitator who hooked up two professional drug dealers. All but one of Aaron’s confederates has been released from prison. His remaining co-defendant is due for release next year.
Why did Aaron get the longest time? He didn’t testify against the higher-ups, who sold or bought 9 kilograms of cocaine and planned to traffic another 15 kilograms. They cooperated with authorities. Also, the buyer planned to convert the powder cocaine into crack (which carries a harsher federal mandatory minimum sentence). The government was able to charge defendants for quantities not traded. Because Aaron didn’t know how to game the system like a pro, he got life without parole.
That’s a misleading term, according to Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. It’s not a sentence of life as much as a sentence to live until you die in prison. Read more