In an unusual move, the Obama administration Thursday told defense lawyers they should suggest more inmates serving time on drug charges who might be deserving of clemency.
That would be a dramatic expansion of the Obama administration’s use of the pardon and clemency power to free low-level non-violent drug offenders. At year’s end, Obama pardoned eight long-serving crack cocaine offenders.
In a speech to the New York State Bar Association, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told attendees that the Justice Department wanted more names to forward to the White House — and that the defense bar could be of assistance.
“This is where you can help,” he said. “You each can play a critical role in this process by providing a qualified petitioner — one who has a clean record in prison, does not present a threat to public safety, and who is facing a life or near-life sentence that is excessive under current law — with the opportunity to get a fresh start.”
Cole said that despite moves to reduce the number of low-level non-violent drug offenders in federal prisons, many remain, serving long sentences they would not be receiving in the wake of the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act and recent Justice Department directives to seek lower drug sentences.
“This is not fair, and it harms our criminal justice system,” said Cole. “To help correct this, we need to identify these individuals and get well-prepared petitions into the Department of Justice.”
The Justice Department is seeking to identify prisoners in circumstances similar to those of the eight who were granted clemency so it can recommend them for clemency as well, he said. The federal Bureau of Prisons will also begin advising inmates of the opportunity to apply, he said.