The U.S. Sentencing Commission has issued an interesting report about President Obama's clemency initiative. The Commission's clemency project report is 59 pages in length and discusses the Obama clemency initiative in detail.

For example, the clemency project report has several key findings, including:

• President Obama made 1,928 grants of clemency during his presidency. Of them, 1,716 were commutations of sentence, more commutations than any other President has granted.

• Of the 1,928 grants of clemency that President Obama made, 1,696 were sentence commutations under the 2014 Clemency Initiative.

• The commutations in sentence granted through the Clemency Initiative resulted in an average sentence reduction of 39.0 percent, or approximately 140 months.

• Of the 1,696 offenders who received a commuted sentence under the Clemency Initiative, 86 (5.1%) met all the announced Clemency Initiative factors for consideration.

• On April 24, 2014, there were 1,025 drug trafficking offenders incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons who appeared to meet all the announced Clemency Initiative factors. Of them, 54 (5.3%) received clemency from President Obama.

• By January 19, 2017, there were 2,687 drug trafficking offenders who had been incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons when the Clemency Initiative was announced and who appeared to meet all the announced Clemency Initiative factors. Of them, 92 (3.4%) received clemency from President Obama.

The report notes in conclusion that:

President Barack Obama granted clemency to 1,928 persons during his eight years in office. Most of these grants took the form of sentence commutations. Of the 1,716 sentence commutations he granted, 1,696 were made through the 2014 Clemency Initiative.

The stated intent of the Clemency Initiative was to lower sentences for non-violent offenders who “likely would have received substantially lower sentences if convicted of the same offense” under the law then in effect. At some point after it was announced, the scope of the Initiative was limited to drug trafficking offenders.

The offenders who received commutations through the Initiative saw their sentences reduced by an average of 39.0 percent, or approximately 140 months.

Although DOJ announced factors that it stated would be considered when recommending petitions for clemency to the President, only 86 of the 1,696 offenders who received a commuted sentence under the Clemency Initiative appear to United States Sentencing Commission 36 have met all the announced factors. Many other offenders also appear to have met the announced factors yet were not offered clemency.

By the end of President Obama’s term in office there were almost 2,600 offenders who had been incarcerated when the Clemency Initiative was announced and who appeared to meet all the announced factors for consideration under the Initiative but who did not receive any form of clemency.

Because DOJ did not provide any public information as to what each factor meant, it is impossible to assess the extent to which the factors, as announced, contributed to the President’s ultimate decision as to whom to grant clemency. As has been discussed, it is possible that all the offenders receiving sentence commutations under the Initiative met these factors, albeit with the factors interpreted more broadly than as discussed in this report. It may also have been that President Obama chose to emphasize some of the factors over others. The analyses in this report are presented to provide information about who received sentence commutations under the Initiative, the effect of those commutations on the sentences for those offenders, and the extent to which it appears that the announced factors were followed. The analysis of other offenders who may have met the announced criteria but did not receive clemency as of the end of President Obama’s term in office is presented in order to provide some data regarding the overall reach of the 2014 Clemency Initiative

A copy of the full clemency project report can be accessed here: clemency project report.

About Brandon Sample

Brandon Sample is an attorney, author, and criminal justice reform activist. Brandon’s law practice is focused on federal criminal defense, federal appeals, federal post-conviction relief, federal civil rights litigation, federal administrative law, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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