Friday, August 5, 2016

Commutations And Felons In Possession

It is within the power of the President of the United States to both commute sentences and grant pardons. President Obama used that power on Wednesday to commute the sentences of 214 individuals. This was the greatest number of commutations at a single time.

These commutations are being portrayed as being for mainly "nonviolent drug offenses". President Obama went on Facebook to argue that our drug laws are too harsh and that Congress needs to institute sentencing reform.
But this is a country that believes in second chances. So we've got to make sure that our criminal justice system works for everyone. We've got to make sure that it keeps our streets safe while also making sure that an entire class of people like Sherman (Chester) isn't relegated to a life on the margins.
The impression given is that many of those who had their sentences commuted were convicted of having relatively small amounts of drugs. How the Obama Administration defines "small" is open to debate.

Would you consider five kilograms of cocaine a small amount given the approximate street value per kilo is around $30,000? At least 15 of those convicted had this much or more in their possession when arrested. Of course it would be hard to top Ralph Casas of North Miami Beach who was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute over 9,445 kilograms of cocaine.

What does get me is that not all of these are "non-violent felons". Jazz Shaw at points out that about a fourth of those who had their sentences commuted were also convicted of crimes involving firearms.
Basically one in four of the commuted sentences were for gun charges. First of all, when you’re packing heat as part of your drug dealing business you’re not exactly projecting the image of the non-violent criminal, but that’s hardly the point here. We’re being lectured on a daily basis by Barack Obama and his Democratic allies about the need to shut down the flow of weapons, end gun violence and every other catch phrase you can imagine which involves limiting the Second Amendment rights of law abiding gun owners. We are also assured of the need to curb the power of “the gun lobby.” In response, conservatives regularly point out that we might want to enforce the gun laws we already have on the books first and deal with the actual criminals who are trafficking in illegal guns. (Which are used in the vast majority of gun crimes in this country.)
Going through the list - and I may have missed some - I found 25 convicted felons in possession of a firearm. For some reason I don't think these guys went through a NICS check. I know for sure that Kenneth Lee Kelley of Westville, OK didn't go through a NICS check because he was convicted of not only two counts of being a felon in possession but also for having a stolen firearm. Nor did Ervin Darnell Worthy of Akron, OH who had a firearm with a altered serial number.

Joshua Boyer of Tampa, FL takes the prize for most interesting firearms offense. He was convicted of having possession of a firearm that was not registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. If I were to speculate, Mr. Boyer was emulating Jack Miller of US v. Miller fame in that he had a sawed off shotgun. He may, of course, had a full-auto firearm or a silencer.

Frankly, I really am not that sympathetic to junkies who ruin their lives by their choices. I am at the point where legalizing all drugs is starting to make some sense given the militarization of the police, overuse of SWAT teams, etc. However, knowing that junkies will do anything for their next fix including killing you or me for the change in our pockets, I am not that sure that commuting the sentences of those who facilitate drug use is the correct thing to do if we want to "keep our streets safe." I don't necessarily know the correct thing to do but commuting the sentences of many of these felons doesn't quite sit right with me.


  1. If SWAT teams aren't kept busy breaking junkies doors down, whose doors will they be breaking down? It's not as if they will go out of business.

  2. At least four of the releasees were also Meth dealers/manufacturers...

  3. At least four of the releasees were also Meth dealers/manufacturers...