U.S. to expand clemency criteria for drug offenders

WASHINGTON Mon Apr 21, 2014 3:11pm EDT

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testifies about his FY2015 budget request at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testifies about his FY2015 budget request at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington April 3, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Justice Department will widen the criteria it uses to decide which drug offenders to recommend to the president for clemency, Attorney General Eric Holder said on Monday.

The department expects thousands of drug offenders currently serving time to be eligible for reduced sentences under the new clemency guidelines and it will prepare to review an influx of applications, Holder said in a video address.

Under U.S. law, the president can reduce sentences or pardon Americans serving sentences for federal crimes. The Justice Department will now recommend more candidates for the president's consideration.

Details of the new criteria will be announced later this week by Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

Holder hinted the guidelines may include applying a 2010 law that reduced sentences for crack cocaine offenders to those sentenced before the law was enacted.

"There are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime," Holder said in his address.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a press briefing on Monday that President Barack Obama asked the Department of Justice to widen the clemency guidelines.

"The president wants to make sure that everyone has a fair shot into the clemency system, and he has asked the Department of Justice to set up a process aimed at ensuring that anyone who has a good case for commutation has their application seen and evaluated thoroughly," Carney said.

Granting clemency to nonviolent drug offenders is part of the Obama administration's strategy to reduce spending on federal prisons by reducing the number of inmates serving time for nonviolent drug crimes.

Last year, Holder launched the "Smart on Crime" initiative to review the criminal justice system and look for ways to make spending on prisons more efficient by focusing on violent offenders.

Some Republicans in Congress say more lenient sentences would reverse a drop in crime seen in recent decades.

In 2010, nearly half of 216,000 federal inmates were serving time for drug-related crimes, according to Department of Justice data.

(Reporting By Julia Edwards, additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Paul Simao)

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Comments (14)
nodeficit wrote:
He had a drug 5 yrs mandatory
He had a gun 15 yrs mandatory
He crossed state line 10 yrs mandatory
30 years for a drug and 2 years for murder.
Good job Guys!

Apr 21, 2014 12:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Nathan45 wrote:
Perhaps it is too much to ask Holder to fight crime and prosecute criminals.

Apr 21, 2014 12:56pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
SandyC69 wrote:
As long as a majority of the sentence has already been served, grant clemency for non-violent drug offenders – with one addition. If the offender is a US citizen, grant clemency with the caveat the if he/she is picked up again, back to prison for completion of original sentence plus years to serve on the new conviction.

Grant clemency to non-violent illegal aliens, but upon walking out of prison, put them on a bus, train, plane back to their own country, with the caveat that if they return to the US again, they will be picked up and jailed for the remainder of their original sentence plus 30 more years.

Apr 21, 2014 1:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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