Obama Administration to Review Clarence Aaron Commutation Requestby Phillip Smith
Jul. 19, 2012
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The Obama administration is seeking a fresh review of Clarence Aaron's request for commutation of his cocaine trafficking sentence, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Aaron, a first-offender, was sentenced to three life terms in 1993 for his minor role in a cocaine deal. He has since become a poster child for sentencing reform and, more recently, for pardons and commutation reform.
The Justice Department will also undertake a broader review of recommendations for presidential pardons. Under scrutiny will be the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which has been under increasing criticism since the Post and Pro Publica published stories in December about racial disparities in the process and more stories in May about Clarence Aaron's ordeal.
The December stories found that whites were four times more likely to win pardons and commutations than blacks, while the stories on Aaron showed that he was denied a commutation in 2008 despite having the support of the prosecutors' office that tried him and the judge who sentenced him, after the pardon attorney didn't tell the White House about the support.
Aaron filed a new commutation request in 2011, and that is pending. Since the Washington Post/Pro Publica articles came out, his case has been taken up prominent figures, including members of Congress, law professors, and civil rights advocates. Many of those supporters have called for a broader investigation into the pardon process.
The presidential power to pardon or commute as been gradually atrophying even as prisoner numbers climbed in recent years. President Bill Clinton pardoned nearly 400 people, while President George W. Bush pardoned only 189. So far, President Obama has pardoned only 22 people and commuted the sentence of just one.