The president of the United States has the power to grant clemency, commutations or full pardons to those convicted of crimes. This power is interesting in that, as many things political, it has an irreconcilable duality. Every President is accused of not using this power enough, yet when it is used, it is roundly criticized. As a criminal defense attorney, I criticize not the choices for the exercise of this power, and applaud it’s use.
As Johnny Cash explained his wardrobe in his song “The Man in Black”: “I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime but sits there because he’s a victim of the times.” This power alleviates and ameliorates the prisoners that have had enough yet are still incarcerated, or those that deserve to have their conviction wiped from the face of the earth. Sometimes people sit incarcerated, convicted of horse and buggy laws when we now live in a jet plane society. We should, for example, free all federal marijuana prisoners. Likewise everyone in prison for simple drug possession. Changing technology leads to changing laws leads to freeing the unjustly imprisoned.
A blurb gathered by Attorney Jay Leiderman. California State Bar Certified Criminal Law Specialist
Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution states that the President “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment”. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted this language to include the power to grant pardons, conditional pardons, commutations of sentence, conditional commutations of sentence, remissions of fines and forfeitures, respites, and amnesties. (P.S. Ruckman, Jr. 1997. “Executive Clemency in the United States: Origins, Development, and Analysis (1900-1993),” 27 Presidential Studies Quarterly, 251-271)
Clemency Project 2014 News Release
Clemency Project 2014 Applauds President Obama for Granting Eight Commutations (“President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal prisoners, and pardoned 12 others on Wednesday. These mark the first commutations the President has granted since the U.S. Department of Justice announced its clemency initiative in April of 2014. ‘We commend President Obama for keeping his promise to provide relief for federal prisoners serving excessively long sentences; terms of imprisonment they would not receive if sentenced today,’ said Cynthia W. Roseberry, project manager for Clemency Project 2014. ‘Federal sentencing laws and policies have changed, and the country has changed, but thousands of federal prisoners remain incarcerated under antiquated laws and ways of thinking about crime. We urge the President to commute more of the unjust sentences faced by federal prisoners.'”)