They say the wheels of justice grind slowly. While there is truth in the saying, eight federal inmates who just had their sentences for drug crimes commuted are undoubtedly grateful that the wheels of justice finally turned in their favor.
Raleigh news outlets reported that President Obama issued the commutations in eight federal cases in which each prisoner had been incarcerated for at least 15 years. All of them would have been likely to receive much shorter sentences if they had been tried under current law.
The president recognized that the eight were punished by an “unfair system” that included at the time of their cases a 100-to1 disparity in punishments for crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Those disparities were reduced three years ago by the Fair Sentencing Act.
Readers might recall the era in which the harsh sentencing laws were created. The federal government and states scrambled to increase penalties for possession of crack cocaine and trafficking in the drug, as use of the substance increased.
One important statistic to note here: these eight commuted sentences don’t represent a retroactive fix of the past injustice in sentencing. A group called Families Against Mandatory Minimums says approximately 8,800 federal prisoners are serving sentences for crack cocaine crimes committed before the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was enacted.
While activists are glad to see the president provide relief for these eight people from unduly harsh sentences (six of them were in prison for life), they are at the same time issuing calls for more relief for more inmates.
Anyone arrested today for drug trafficking can attest to the fact that sentences are still harsh; that defendants face the possibility of years in prison if convicted.
For those facing those sentences, it makes sense to discuss the evidence and charges with an attorney experienced in successfully defending clients in similar cases.
Source: New York Times, “Obama Commutes Sentences for 8 in Crack Cocaine Cases,” by Charlie Savage, Dec. 19, 2013