FAMM Cheers Justice Department Effort to Grant More Clemency

Post Date: January 30, 2014

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General James Cole, in prepared remarks to the New York State Bar Association, asked lawyers and prison officials to assist federal prisoners serving lengthy sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses with requesting commutations (sentence reductions) from President Barack Obama. In particular, Cole emphasized the administration’s desire to grant commutations to nonviolent offenders serving life or near-life sentences. In December, President Obama commuted the prison terms of eight federal crack cocaine offenders, six of whom were serving life without parole. 

FAMM President Julie Stewart issued this statement in response to Cole’s announcement: 

“This speech is evidence of just how derelict the clemency process has become in America. Once upon a time, Presidents granted hundreds of commutations, but today they’re about as common as winning the lottery. It’s encouraging to see the President wiping the dust off of this tool and targeting the most unjust of our many unjust sentencing laws: life without parole for a drug offense. There are plenty of nonviolent, rehabilitated people who don’t deserve to die in prison. But we need more than commutations. Congress and this administration should end mandatory life without parole sentences for nonviolent drug crimes.” 

Examples of nonviolent federal drug offenders serving lengthy sentences and seeking commutations include Sherman Chester (life without parole), Weldon Angelos (55 years), and Barbara Scrivner (30 years). 

Cole’s announcement comes hot on the heels of today’s U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee vote, 13-5, to advance S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL). In the U.S. House of Representatives, a similar bill has been introduced by Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Raul Labrador (R-ID). Both bills would apply fairer crack sentencing laws adopted unanimously by Congress in 2010 to more than 8,800 federal prisoners who did not benefit from that legislation. However, neither bill would remove mandatory life without parole sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. 

FAMM is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization supporting fair, humane, and proportionate sentencing laws that protect the public and fit the crime and the offender.