Before leaving office, President Barack Obama granted a record number of sentence commutations—more in his term than any president in the history of the United States—according to a White House press release. President Obama’s last rounds of commutations included Chelsea Manning, a transgender former U.S. Army intelligence analyst convicted of passing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks. In addition to Manning, on January 17, 2017, President Obama commuted 209 inmates’ sentences. On the eve of the inauguration, he commuted the sentences of an additional 330 drug offenders, the most in a single day. The January 19 activity brought the total number of commutations during his presidential tenure to 1,715. On that same day, President Obama also pardoned 64 individuals, for a total of 212 pardons during his presidency.
In all, President Obama has commuted the sentences of more inmates than the last 13 presidents combined. The majority of President Obama’s clemency grants were for nonviolent drug offenders, as part of a clemency initiative established by the Department of Justice in 2014. President Obama has publicly commented that “[t]he power to grant pardons and commutations . . . embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws.” President Obama’s clemency initiative was one component of an overall reform initiative designed to promote fairness and equity in the criminal justice system. Among the other notable criminal reforms implemented during President Obama’s tenure was the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which aimed to reduce the disparity between mandatory minimum sentences for crack versus powder cocaine drug offenses. Many of the sentences reduced by President Obama during his presidency were for crimes related to crack cocaine, reports CNN.
Eileen Rumfelt is a member of Miller & Martin PLLC in Atlanta, Georgia.