Sentencing/Post Conviction

DOJ's new clemency criteria could benefit nonviolent federal drug offenders

Nonviolent offenders who served at least 10 years of a federal drug sentence and have no ties to gangs or cartels could benefit from the Justice Department’s new clemency criteria.

Applicants must be individuals who would have received a significantly lower sentence if sentenced for the same offense today, the Washington Post reports.

In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which is aimed at reducing sentencing disparities between crimes involving crack and powder cocaine. In December, the president commuted the sentences of eight individuals convicted prior to the law.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced the initiative Monday in his weekly video message.

James R. Silkenat, president American Bar Association, released a statement about the clemency initiative Wednesday, noting that the ABA welcomes the announcement.

“Public confidence in the criminal justice system is directly linked to fairly imposed punishments, a principle President Obama and the Department of Justice recognize and appear poised to advance,” he said. “Today’s announcement of the clemency initiative represents months of hard work by the DOJ, members of the ABA and lawyers from other organizations. This clemency initiative is a step forward for equal justice, something the ABA and its members fight for every day.”

Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is scheduled to formally announce the criteria on Wednesday. According to his prepared remarks obtained by the Washington Post, the initiative is not limited crack cocaine convictions.

“For our criminal justice system to be effective, it needs to not only be fair, but it also must be perceived as being fair,” Cole’s remarks say, according to the Post. “Older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system.”

Related articles:

ABA Journal: “Bipartisan push is on for sentencing reform” “Obama seeks low-level offenders for possible clemency” “Obama commutes sentences of eight crack cocaine offenders, cites ‘unfair system’”

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