WASHINGTON – In a positive move, President Obama has granted the first pardons of his presidency to nine individuals. The American Civil Liberties Union commended the president for reinvigorating the pardon process, and at the same time called on him to also extend his pardon power on behalf of individuals who have been sentenced under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines related to drug crimes.
Mandatory minimum sentencing schemes were inadequately addressed by the Fair Sentencing Act passed by Congress earlier this year and disproportionately impact African-Americans. The Fair Sentencing Act reduced the discriminatory 100:1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing under federal law to 18:1, a positive but insufficient step. There is no legitimate basis for a discrepancy between the sentencing for the two drugs.
“President Obama deserves credit for exercising his pardon power and we hope this is just the first step in a systemic revitalization of clemency,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “It is now important for the president to use his pardon power to address unfair and discriminatory crack cocaine mandatory minimum sentences and other sentencing guidelines that are patently unjust and wholly unsupported by facts.”
Mandatory minimum sentences, which reduce the sentencing discretions of judges, can have devastating and unfair consequences on people’s lives. A poignant example is ACLU client Hamedah Hasan, a mother and grandmother who is serving her 17th year of a 27-year federal prison sentence for a first-time, non-violent crack conviction. Had she been convicted of a powder cocaine offense, she would be home by now. However, under the new 18:1 ratio, her prison sentence remains unchanged. Hasan has filed a petition with the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney asking that President Obama commute her remaining sentence.