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21 life sentences commuted for nonviolent offenders

The Office of the President carries with it a great amount of power. One of the powers that the individual elected into this position has is the power to grant clemency, to commute the sentences of individuals that have been convicted of a criminal offense. It is not a command that is given often. In fact, since President Barack Obama took office, he has only used his authority in 40 cases.

That number increased by over 50 percent this month when the life sentences for nonviolent offenses in 21 cases were commuted. According to President Obama, these individuals received these sentences under an "unfair system." This unfair system was recently highlighted in a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, focusing on mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses.

The mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine offenses were amended by Congress in 2011, effectively reducing them. However, it was too late for those that were convicted prior to these changes, like the eight that had their sentences for the crack-related offenses commuted this month.

The ACLU's deputy legal director Vanita Gupta called the move an "enormous step," but acknowledged that these individuals are not alone. "We know there are thousands who in similar situations in prison," she said. Gupta said that this is only the start and that legislative change needs to occur.

For those that are charged with a crime, the consequences can be very serious. A defense attorney will provide assistance to those in Maryland, fighting for their rights long before a sentencing hearing.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Obama Commutes Sentences of 8 Inmates Convicted of Crack Offenses," Saki Knafo, Dec. 19, 2013

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