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The presidential and gubernatorial power of pardoning convictions and commuting prison sentences

Criminal defense lawyer on the need to increase prison sentence commutations and to shrink the overgrown criminal justice system

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President Obama has commuted Chelsea Manning’s (Born Bradley Manning) prison sentence from thirty-five years to seven years. Yes, prosecutors from his administration pushed for Manning’s original sentence, but at least President Obama has tempered that with this commutation.

Of course this commutation has raised the very vocal ire of such sectors as various Republican members of Congress and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I agree with President Obama’s commutation of Manning’s sentence, applaud him for having increased the number of pardons and commutations he has issued to those convicted of federal crimes, and underline that this needs to be just the beginning. Many more people merit commutations, including the many unfairly sentenced to draconian mandatory minimum drug sentences. As to decades-long convict Leonard Peltier — an American Indian whose supporters challenge his guilty finding for the 1975 death of two FBI agents in the Pine Ridge, South Dakota shootout — if Presidents Obama and Clinton were not going to commute his sentence, one is left to wonder whether any president will do so.

As I say again and again, our overgrown criminal justice system needs to be completely overhauled and shrunk starting with legalizing prostitution, marijuana and gambling; eliminatingmandatory minimum sentencing; eliminating the death penalty; and eliminating per se blood alcohol rules in DWI cases. That way, we will have a criminal justice system that is more just; that is more prone to respect by more people; that hires, trains, supervises, promotes and rewards better quality police, prosecutors, judges, jailers, and probation/parole officers; and that better helps us balance government budgets.

Has President Obama increased his number of pardons and commutations now more than ever because he will face less backlash for doing so by not being Constitutionally eligible for re-election and for not having as much legislation to promote during his last twelve months in office than during his first seven years; because he has had a change of heart; or because of changes in the way his pardon/commutation office works and is treated? Regardless of the reason, may Barack Obama’s current example of many pardons and commutations positively influence Donald Trump and his White House successors, as well as governors for state-level convictions.