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DOJ preps for thousands of crack cocaine sentence appeals under new clemency criteria

Posted Apr 21, 2014 4:01 PM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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Thousands of federal prisoners could be freed with the Justice Department’s new clemency criteria—to be announced later this week—regarding crack cocaine sentences, and the agency is assigning more lawyers to its Office of the Pardon Attorney.

The announcement was made Monday in Attorney General Eric Holder's weekly video message, the Los Angeles Times reports. Holder noted that the expanded program will allow President Barack Obama to consider clemency petitions from a “larger field of eligible individuals,” USA Today reports.

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ABA file photo of Eric Holder by Tony Avelar

The White House asked the Justice Department to change the rules for solicitation of additional commutation and pardon requests last week, according to USA Today.

In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act, which is aimed at reducing sentencing disparities between crimes involving crack and powder cocaine. In December 2013, the president commuted the sentences of eight individuals convicted prior to the law.

Holder’s office recommended the cases to the president. In January, according to USA Today, Deputy Attorney General James Cole asked state bar associations to help identify low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who could might qualify for clemency.

“There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime—and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime,” Holder said in the video.

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