Martin & Kent, L.L.C. Martin & Kent, L.L.C.

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Obama grants clemency to drug offenders

Illinois residents interested in the justice system might like to know about some of Barack Obama's final acts as president. On Jan. 19, 330 federal prisoners who were convicted of drug crimes had their sentences commuted by the former president.

Obama freed more inmates than any other U.S. president with 1,715 total commutations, and he offered clemency to 568 people serving life sentences in prison. Obama sought to correct what he viewed as "systematic injustices" within the criminal justice system. This refers to sentencing requirements that put drug offenders behind bars for long periods of time, and some see these mandatory minimum sentencing requirements as too harsh for relatively minor crimes.

When choosing which inmates to release, Obama typically looked for those who served at least 10 years in prison. The offenders also had to be well-behaved in prison and considered nonviolent, and inmates stood out when they found ways to better themselves while incarcerated. The former president personally reviewed all cases where clemency was granted.

In one case, a Maryland man received a 22-year sentence for selling marijuana and cocaine to undercover police officers in 2002. The man obtained marijuana and was charged with a cocaine offense even though his accomplice secured the cocaine. He received a much longer sentence than his accomplice because of a prior criminal history. Obama arranged for this man to be released in 2019 if he participates in a residential drug treatment program.

Those facing drug charges may need to consult with an attorney as a conviction could lead to fines and jail time. The potential consequences for an offense can vary greatly based on the circumstances. Courts typically consider prior drug convictions, the type of drug and the amount one possessed. Stricter punishments are generally sought when a person makes, distributes or sells drugs, and someone can also be charged and convicted when intending to sell drugs.

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