Wisconsin residents may be aware that Barack Obama commuted the sentences of more federal prisoners than any other president in history. On Jan. 19, in one of his last acts as president, Obama granted clemency to a further 330 inmates, which brings the total number of commutations issued during his administration to 1,715. The commutations underline Obama’s efforts to address mass incarceration in the United States and mandatory sentencing laws that are viewed by civil rights and criminal justice reform groups as being disproportionately harsh on nonviolent minority offenders.
Obama’s last-day acts of clemency also set a record for the most commutations ever granted in a single day. Obama urged Congress on several occasions to tackle criminal justice reform, but the only major piece of legislation addressing the issue to cross his desk during his two terms in the Oval Office was the Fair Sentencing Act. The 2010 law reduced the sentencing disparity between offenses involving crack and powder cocaine.
Most of the federal prisoners granted clemency by Obama have spent 10 or more years behind bars, and all of them were considered nonviolent offenders. Reports indicate that Obama was heavily involved in the decision-making process and personally reviewed the case files of each of the prisoners. White House sources say that Obama was particularly drawn to cases involving inmates who had made efforts to turn their lives around while in prison.
Criminal defense attorneys may negotiate plea agreements in narcotics cases in light of the nation’s harsh sentencing laws, but they could also seek to have drug charges dismissed when police may have violated protections established by the U.S. Constitution. Most of these cases involve drugs recovered by law enforcement during warranted searches or routine stops. Defense attorneys may study police reports carefully to ensure that officers did not stray beyond the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment.