Presidential Commutation of Sentence

Under the right circumstances, the President of the United States may consider a commutation of sentence. If granted, the prisoner would be released from prison, and the balance of any prison sentence would be canceled.

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Commutation of Sentence Under the Fair Sentencing Act

In 2010, former President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act. It was intended to reduce unfair sentencing disparities in offenses involving crack cocaine. The problem was that the Fair Sentencing Act did not apply to offenders sentenced before its passage. So, there are now people in federal prison serving sentences under the old law who would be sentenced to substantially less time in prison if they were sentenced under the new law – for the same crime! An individual serving a sentence for any federal crime, including drug crimes, can seek to have their sentence commuted.

In December 2016, President Obama took steps to correct this situation. He commuted the sentences of eight men and women who had served more than 15 years in prison for crack cocaine offenses. The offense was the first offense for two people, but the court had no discretion because the sentence was mandatory.

President Obama has directed that he consider additional applications for commutation of sentences to restore fairness and proportionality to people who deserve that consideration. The United States Department of Justice is committed to finding additional people who might qualify for clemency.

Qualifying for Clemency – Federal Sentence Commutation

To qualify for a federal sentence to be commuted or for clemency, a candidate must have a clean prison record, not present a threat to public safety, and be sentenced under out-of-date laws that have since been modified because the laws were no longer considered appropriate. Clemency is not limited to just crack offenders, although they are the most obvious candidates. People incarcerated for other offenses may be entitled to a commuted sentence if they meet the following six criteria: they must be:

inmates who are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today,

  1. are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels,
  2. have served at least 10 years of their sentence,
  3. do not have a significant criminal history,
  4. have demonstrated good conduct in prison, and
  5. have no history of violence before or during their current term of imprisonment.

It is important that the federal government takes appropriate steps to correct the mistakes of prior laws. If your rights have been violated or there is another reason for you to seek commutation of a federal sentence, it would be best to seek the assistance of a qualified, affordable, and experienced criminal defense lawyer.

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What are the considerations of the federal government when deciding whether a sentence should be commuted?

When the federal government, specifically the President of the United States, considers whether to commute a sentence, several key factors are considered. The commutation process is often seen as a means to correct injustices, address excessive sentences, and reflect changes in societal attitudes towards certain offenses. The considerations include:

  • Nature and Circumstances of the Offense: The severity of the crime, the circumstances under which it was committed, and its impact on victims and society are critically evaluated. Non-violent offenses, particularly drug-related crimes that, under current laws, might result in a lesser sentence, are often considered more favorable.
  • Conduct in Prison: The inmate’s behavior while incarcerated is a significant factor. Demonstrated good conduct, efforts towards rehabilitation, and engagement in educational or vocational training programs can support a case for commutation.
  • Length of Sentence Served: The amount of time already served is taken into account, especially if it is disproportionate to the crime or significantly exceeds the sentences that would be imposed under today’s laws for similar offenses.
  • Disparities in Sentencing: The federal government considers whether the sentence is out of step with sentences imposed on other individuals convicted of similar crimes, particularly in light of sentencing laws and guidelines changes.
  • Health and Age: Health issues, advanced age, and whether continued incarceration poses a significant risk to the inmate’s health can influence the decision for commutation, especially if compassionate release mechanisms are insufficient or unavailable.
  • Support and Rehabilitation Potential: The likelihood of the individual’s successful reintegration into society, including support networks available outside of prison and evidence of rehabilitation are essential factors. This includes the individual’s plans for employment, housing, and community support upon release.
  • Recommendations and Support: Recommendations from justice officials, advocacy groups, community leaders, and others, including petitions or widespread support for the individual’s commutation, can be influential. Input from the prosecutors, judges, and victims or their families involved in the case may also be considered.
  • Justice and Mercy Balance: The broader considerations of justice, fairness, and mercy play a role. The President may consider whether commutation would correct an injustice, address excessive punitive measures, and serve the interests of justice more broadly than continued incarceration.
  • Public Interest: The potential impact of the commutation on public safety, public opinion, and the general welfare of the community is evaluated. The decision may reflect broader policy goals like criminal justice reform initiatives.

It’s important to note that the process of reviewing commutation requests is thorough and involves multiple levels of review, including by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, before recommendations are made to the President. The ultimate decision rests with the President, who has broad discretion in granting clemency. Someone’s chances of success when seeking a commutation of a federal sentence are greatest when they work with a qualified, experienced criminal defense lawyer.

What is a “commutation of sentence”?

A commutation of sentence is a form of clemency that reduces the punishment for a crime without overturning the conviction. Essentially, it lessens the severity of the penalty while the underlying guilty verdict remains intact. Commutations can be applied to reduce prison sentences, fines, or both and are typically granted by a head of state (such as a president or governor) based on considerations of fairness, mercy, or changes in law that might make the original sentence no longer appropriate.

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Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney – Federal Commutation of Sentencing

If you know someone who could qualify for a federal sentence commutation or reduction based on the change in sentencing laws, it is essential that you have the assistance of someone who understands the system and works in federal court regularly. The attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have many years of experience practicing in federal court and have an unparalleled track record of success. If you have questions regarding possible clemency or anything related to federal law, the attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. offer a free consultation and are available to help. Although it is challenging, a federal sentence can be commuted.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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