President Obama has granted 21 pardons and commutations.  A cousin of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Reynolds Wintersmith, was granted one of the eight commutations given by the President Thursday.  Each of those people were convicted of drug charges and have served more than 15 years in prison, which the White House said amounted to “unduly harsh sentences issued under an outdated sentencing regime.”  The White House noted that under current sentencing laws, those people would have been given smaller sentences.

Wintersmith, along with four others, had appealed their convictions because they believed the formula used to determine prison time was unfair.  The 5 defendants said the judge wrongly assumed a certain type of drug was involved when that was ambiguous in the charges.  The Supreme Court upheld Wintersmith’s conviction in 1998.  The Supreme Court has long struggled with sentencing guidelines imposed by Congress and whether they are fair or not.

President Obama has sparingly used his pardon and commutation powers.  Obama said he granted eight commutations because the sentences they were handed down were “unfair” and tied the hands of judges.

“Three years ago, I signed the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act, which dramatically narrowed the disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses. This law began to right a decades-old injustice, but for thousands of inmates, it came too late. If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society. Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.  Today, I am commuting the prison terms of eight men and women who were sentenced under an unfair system. Each of them has served more than 15 years in prison. In several cases, the sentencing judges expressed frustration that the law at the time did not allow them to issue punishments that more appropriately fit the crime.  Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness. But it must not be the last…Together, we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all.”

A commutation involves the reduction of legal penalties.  It does not nullify a conviction and can have conditions attached.  Commutations are handled by the head of the executive branch and is closely linked with good behavior.  The President holds the power to commute federal sentences and governors hold the power to commute state sentences.

Commutations Issued:

  • Reynolds Allen Wintersmith (Illinois), the first cousin of Gov. Patrick, was convicted in 1994 for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and was given a life sentence plus $3,000 in fines.  Wintersmith will be released on April 17, 2014.  [Visit:  Families Against Mandatory Minimums for More Information]
  •   Clarence Aaron (Alabama) was convicted in 1993 of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, and attempt to possess cocaine with intent to distribute.  He was sentenced to life in prison.  He will be released on April 17, 2014. [Visit:  FAMM for More Information]
  • Stephanie George (Florida) was convicted in 1997 of conspiracy to possess cocaine base with intent to distribute.  She was sentenced to life in prison.  She will be released on April 17, 2014.  [Visit:  FAMM for More Information]
  • Ezell Gilbert (Florida) was convicted in 1997 of possession with intent to deliver cocaine base and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.  He was sentenced to 24 years and 4 months in prison plus 5 years of supervised release.  He was commuted to time served.
  • Helen Gray (Georgia) was convicted in 1996 of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base, possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.  She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  She will be released on April 17, 2014.
  • Jason Hernandez (Texas) was convicted in 1998 of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute a mixture of methamphetamine and cocaine hydrochloride, distribution of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a protected property, and establishing a place for manufacture and distribution of controlled substances.  He was sentenced to life in prison plus $5,000 in fines.  His sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison.
  • Ricky Patterson (Florida) was convicted in 1995 of conspiracy to distribute cocaine base and possession with intent to distribute cocaine base.  He was sentenced to life in prison.  He will be released on April 17, 2014.
  • Billy Wheelock (Texas) was convicted in 1993 of conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, possession with intent to distribute more than 5 grams of crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school, and possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine.  He was sentenced to life in prison plus $3,000 in fines.  He will be released on April 17, 2014.

Note:  Gov. Patrick stated to the media that he has “no recollection” of his cousin and that he was not involved with the application for commutation.

A pardon is the forgiveness of a crime and the cancellation of the penalty.  The pardon power for federal crimes is one of the President’s duties.  The Office of the Pardon Attorney, who works within the Justice Department, usually reviews applications for pardon and gives a recommendation to the President.  A person requesting pardon must wait five years after conviction or release to be granted a pardon.  However, the President can issue a pardon at any time even if the pardoned person has not been charged with the crime.  Each state has its own pardon laws.  Generally the governor of the state grants pardons, but some states have Boards of Pardons and Paroles whose job it is to review cases and grant pardons.  Pardons do not automatically expunge a person’s record.

“All of these cases are handled in the ordinary process, through the Justice Department,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “The Justice Department makes recommendations to the president.”

Pardons were granted to the following people:

  • William Alvarez (Georgia) was convicted in 1997 of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and conspiracy to import heroin.  He was sentenced to 9 months in prison plus 4 years of supervised release.
  • Charlie Lee Davis, Jr. (Alabama) was convicted in 1995 of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base and use of a minor to distribute cocaine base.  He was sentenced to 7 years and 3 months in prison plus 5 years of supervised release.
  • Ronald Greenwood (Missouri) was convicted in 1996 of conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act.  He was sentenced to 3 years probation, 6 months home confinement, 100 hours of community service, $5,000 restitution, and $1,000 in fines.
  • Joe Hatch (Florida) was convicted in 1990 of possession with intent to distribute marijuana.  He was sentenced to 5 years in prison and 4 years of supervised release.
  • Martin Hatcher (Alabama) was convicted in 1992 of distribution and possession with intent to distribute marijuana.  He was sentenced to 5 years probation.
  • Derek Laliberte (Maine) was convicted in 1992 of money laundering.  He was sentenced to 4 years and 3 months in prison (which was later reduced to 1 year and 6 months in prison and 2 years of supervised release).
  • Alfred Mack (Virginia) was convicted in 1982 of unlawful distribution of heroin.  He was sentenced to between 1 year and 6 months and 4 years and 6 months in prison.
  • Robert Schindler (Virginia) was convicted in 1996 of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud.  He was sentenced to 3 years probation, 4 months home confinement, and $10,000 restitution.
  • Willie Shaw Jr. (South Carolina) was convicted in 1974 of armed bank robbery.  He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
  • Kimberly Stout (Virginia) was convicted in 1993 of bank embezzlement and false entries in the books of a lending institution.  She was sentenced to 1 day in prison and 3 years of supervised release, including 5 months of home confinement.
  • Bernard Sutton Jr. (Virginia) was convicted in 1989 of theft.  He was sentenced to 3 years probation, $825 restitution, and $500 in fines.
  • Chris Switzer (Nebraska) was convicted in 1996 of conspiracy to violate narcotics laws.  He was sentenced to 4 years probation, 6 months home confinement, drug and alcohol treatment, and 200 hours of community service.
  • Miles Wilson (Ohio) was convicted in 1981 of mail fraud.  He was sentenced to 3 years in prison (which was suspended) and 3 years supervised release.
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