Obama commutes sentences for 8 drug convictions

3:47 PM, Dec 19, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama on Thursday commuted the sentences of eight people -- including a Tampa man -- he said were serving unduly harsh sentences for drug crimes in the most expansive use yet of his presidential power to free inmates.

Obama made the commutations because the prisoners were sentenced under a system that treated convictions for crack cocaine offenses harsher than powder cocaine. Obama also pardoned 13 others for various crimes.

The president signed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 to reduce penalties for crack cocaine offenses in order to reduce the disparity with powder cocaine penalties. But the act addressed only new cases, not old ones.

Obama said those whose sentences he commuted have served at least 15 years in prison, many under mandatory minimums that required judges to impose the long sentences even if they didn't think it fit the crime.

"If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society," Obama said in a written statement. "Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year."

Previously, Obama had commuted only one sentence in the five years of his presidency, involving another drug case. He previously had pardoned 39 people. A pardon forgives a crime and wipes out the conviction, while a commutation leaves the conviction but ends the punishment.

In August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a major shift in federal sentencing policies, targeting long mandatory terms that he said have flooded the nation's prisons with low-level drug offenders and diverted crime-fighting dollars that could be far better spent.

As a first step, Holder has instructed federal prosecutors to stop charging many nonviolent drug defendants with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences. His next step will be working with a bipartisan group in Congress to give judges greater discretion in sentencing.

Obama encouraged Congress to act in the new year to bring more fairness to the system.

"Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness," Obama said. "But it must not be the last. In the new year, lawmakers should act on the kinds of bipartisan sentencing reform measures already working their way through Congress. Together, we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all."

The President granted commutations to the following eight individuals:

  • Clarence Aaron - Mobile, Ala. Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine; attempt to possess cocaine with intent to distribute (Southern District of Alabama) Sentence:  Life imprisonment, five years' supervised release (Dec. 10, 1993) Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014
  • Stephanie Yvette George - Pensacola, Fla. Offense: Conspiracy to possess cocaine base with intent to distribute (Northern District of Florida) Sentence:  Life imprisonment, ten years' supervised release (May 5, 1997) Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014
  • Ezell Gilbert - Tampa, Fla. Offense: Possession with intent to deliver cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute marijuana (Middle District of Florida) Sentence:  292 months' imprisonment, five years' supervised release (Mar. 25, 1997) Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to time already served
  • Helen Alexander Gray - Ty Ty, Ga. Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base; possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (Middle District of Georgia) Sentence:  240 months' imprisonment (Apr. 19, 1996) Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014
  • Jason Hernandez - McKinney, Tex. Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute controlled substances; possession with intent to distribute and distribute crack cocaine and methamphetamine; possession with intent to distribute a mixture of methamphetamine and cocaine hydrochloride; distribution of a controlled substance between 1,000 feet of a protected property; establishing a place for manufacture and distribution of controlled substances (Eastern District of Texas) Sentence:  Life imprisonment; eight years' supervised release; $5,000 fine (Oct. 2, 1998) Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to 240 months (20 years)
  • Ricky Eugene Patterson - Fort Pierce, Fla. Offense: Conspiracy to distribute cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute cocaine base (Southern District of Florida) Sentence: Life imprisonment (Aug. 3, 1995) Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014
  • Billy Ray Wheelock - Belton, Tex. Offense: Conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine; possession with intent to distribute more than 5 grams of crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school; possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine (Western District of Texas) Sentence: Life imprisonment, 10 years' supervised release, $3,000 fine (Jun. 9, 1993) Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014
  • Reynolds Allen Wintersmith, Jr. - Rockford, Ill. Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribute cocaine and cocaine base; possession with intent to distribute crack (Northern District of Illinois) Sentence: Life imprisonment, five years' supervised release, $1,000 fine (Nov. 23, 1994) Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on April 17, 2014

The President granted pardons to the following thirteen individuals:

  • William Ricardo Alvarez - Marietta, Ga. Offense: Conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin ; conspiracy to import heroin (District of Puerto Rico) Sentence:  Nine months' imprisonment, four years' supervised release (Apr. 30, 1997; amended Jul. 31, 1997)
  • Charlie Lee Davis, Jr. - Wetumpka, Ala. Offense: Possession with intent to distribute cocaine base; use of a minor to distribute cocaine base (Middle District of Alabama) Sentence: 87 months' imprisonment, five years' supervised release (Mar. 21, 1995)
  • Ronald Eugene Greenwood - Crane, Mo. Offense: Conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act  (District of South Dakota) Sentence: Three years' probation, six months' home confinement, 100 hours community service, $5,000 restitution, $1,000 fine (Nov. 18, 1996)
  • Joe Hatch - Lake Placid, Fla. Offense: Possession with intent to distribute marijuana  (Southern District of Florida) Sentence: 60 months' imprisonment, four years' supervised release (May 15, 1990)
  • Martin Alan Hatcher. - Foley, Ala. Offense: Distribution and possession with intent to distribute marijuana (Southern District of Alabama) Sentence: Five years' probation (Nov. 9, 1992)
  • Derek James Laliberte - Auburn, Me. Offense: Money laundering (District of Maine) Sentence: 51 months' imprisonment subsequently reduced to 18 months due to substantial assistance, 2 years' supervised release (Oct. 2, 1992; amended May 21, 1993)
  • Alfred J. Mack - Manassas, Va. Offense: Unlawful distribution of heroin  (District of Columbia) Sentence: 18 to 54 months' imprisonment (Apr. 5, 1982)
  • Robert Andrew Schindler - Goshen, Va. Offense: Conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud (District of Utah) Sentence: Three years' probation, four months' home confinement, $10,000 restitution (May 14, 1996)
  • Willie Shaw, Jr. - Myrtle Beach, S.C. Offense: Armed bank robbery (District of South Carolina) Sentence: Fifteen years' imprisonment (Aug. 7, 1974)
  • Kimberly Lynn Stout - Bassett, Va. Offense: Bank embezzlement; false entries in the books of a lending institution (Western District of Virginia) Sentence: One day imprisonment, three years' supervised release (including five months home confinement) (Nov. 9, 1993)
  • Bernard Anthony Sutton, Jr. - Norfolk, Va. Offense: Theft of personal property (Eastern District of Virginia) Sentence: Three years' probation, $825 restitution, $500 fine (Apr. 4, 1989)
  • Chris Deann Switzer - Omaha, Neb. Offense: Conspiracy to violate narcotics laws (District of Nebraska) Sentence: Four years' probation, six months home confinement, drug and alcohol treatment, 200 hours' community service (Jun. 25, 1996)
  • Miles Thomas Wilson - Williamsburg, Ohio. Offense: Mail fraud (Southern District of Ohio) Sentence: Three years' imprisonment (suspended), three years' supervised release (Jul. 15, 1981)

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