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U.S. Justice Department announces clemency review of drug offenders

Julia Edwards and Aruna Viswanatha (Reuters) | April 23, 2014

The U.S. Justice Department laid out new clemency guidelines on Wednesday that are expected to make thousands of drug offenders eligible for a reduction in the sentences they are currently serving.

Under the new guidelines, inmates that were sentenced under laws that have since changed, have served at least 10 years of their sentence and are nonviolent may be re-examined by the Justice Department and suggested to the president for clemency.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who announced the details of the plan, said the most obvious candidates for review were those sentenced before a 2010 law that lowered the terms for crack cocaine possession charges.

“These older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today’s laws erode people’s confidence in our criminal justice system,” Cole said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Under U.S. law, the president can reduce sentences or pardon Americans serving sentences for federal crimes, though the power has historically been used on a case-by-case basis.

Should President Barack Obama grant clemency to each new eligible inmate, the move would be an unprecedented use of clemency power. The Justice Department estimates thousands of inmates may be eligible for review. Over eight years in office, president Bush granted 11 sentence commutations; Clinton granted 61.

“Although it’s being done through the pardon power, it really is a kind of administrative action to make some of the newer laws retroactive,” said Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford University and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “It’s almost as if they have to invent their own kind of shadow sentencing guidelines and in effect re-sentence certain people.”

Read more at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/23/us-usa-justice-clemency-idUSBREA3M1CR20140423

Photo credit:  Reuters/Jason Reed

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