MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - A Minneapolis man’s prison sentence was one of the 214 commuted by President Obama on Wednesday, Aug. 3 – a date that marked the largest number of single-day commutations in a century. President Obama has now surpassed the past 9 presidents combined in total commutations.
Keith Ray of Minneapolis was sentenced in April 2003 to nearly 22 years in prison for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. In November 2002, Ray was caught boarding a train from Chicago to Minneapolis with 2 kilograms of crack. Ray’s sentence is commuted to expire on Aug. 3, 2018, with the condition he enroll in residential drug treatment.
“Today began like any other for 214 federal inmates across the country, but ultimately became a day I am confident they will never forget. This morning, these individuals received a message from the President: your application for clemency has been granted,” said a blog post from White House Counsel Neil Eggleston. “This news likely carries special weight to the 67 individuals serving life sentences – almost all for nonviolent drug crimes – who, up until today, could only imagine what it might be like to once again attend a loved one’s birthday party, walk their child to school, or simply go to the grocery store. All of the individuals receiving commutation today, incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws, embody the President’s belief that America is a nation of second chances.”
President Obama has now granted 562 commutations. See a complete list of the latest 214 at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/08/03/president-obama-grants-commutations
What is a commutation?
A commutation is when the president shortens an inmate’s sentence, but does not forgive the underlying conviction. It is considered a part of the president’s pardon power.
So how is a commutation different from a pardon?
A pardon is what it sounds like, the president forgives the person for the underlying crime and wipes his/her slate.
What gives the president the power to pardon and commute?
The Constitution. Article III, Section 2, Clause 1, gives the president the power to “grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States.”
How often do presidents use their pardon power?
Modern presidents do not often use the pardon power. Just looking at commutations, Obama has already granted more commutations than any modern president. George W. Bush granted 11, Bill Clinton granted 61, George H.W. Bush granted 3, Ronald Reagan granted 13, Jimmy Carter granted 29, Gerald Ford granted 22, Richard Nixon granted 60, and Lyndon B. Johnson granted 22.
Why don’t presidents pardon and commute more often?
Rightly or wrongly, presidents see pardons as a political risk. It’s one reason why they tend to occur more frequently toward the end of a presidency. President Clinton did not help things by pardoning a man named Marc Rich, who was indicted on charges of tax evasion. Rich’s wife at the time had donated a lot of money to Clinton, so many saw Rich as “buying” the pardon.
How do you get a pardon or commutation?
While the president has the sole power to grant a pardon or commutation, it’s not as simple as putting a letter on his desk. The first step is to file a petition, which goes to the pardon attorney and staff, then to the deputy attorney general and staff, then to the White House counsel and staff — and maybe, just maybe, to the president.