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Mark Osler, a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas, has taken a look at presidential clemency and found President Obama out of step with previous presidents all the way back to William McKinley.

Using as an example Weldon Angelos, Osler argues that the criminal-justice system is replete with cases that deserve consideration from the White House but aren't getting it.

Angelos was sentenced in 2002 to 55 years for selling a total of $350 of marijuana several times to an undercover agent and for carrying a gun that he neither used nor brandished. He had a small, sealed juvenile record. He also had a a very large duffel bag with marijuana leavings, the implication being that it had once been full.

Angelos has now done 10 years, which is what the judge said his actions were really worth. (Even that was seriously deficient in reasonableness for a crime that shouldn't be a crime, but that's no argument to make in court.) The idiocy of mandatory sentencing requirements screwed Angelos. The prosecutors, angry that he had refused a plea bargain that would have imprisoned him for 15 years, attached gun-related enhancements to the weed charges. That gave the judge no option. At 34, Angelos has now spent nearly a third of his life in the federal slam. Without clemency or parole, he could be in his 70s before he emerges. Osler says his is the kind of case the president, any president, should include when considering clemency.

But in this realm, Obama has been stingier with his powers than any president all the way back to McKinley. In all, he has pardoned just 22 people and commuted the sentence of only one in his 45 months in office. Of the 20 presidents compared by the U.S. Department of Justice, only George W. Bush exercised his clemency powers less than Obama in his first term. By the end of his second, Bush had pardoned 189 prisoners and commuted the sentences of 11 others.

Osler writes:

Mark Osler
As ProPublica journalist Dafna Linzer pointed out earlier this month, President Obama has granted clemency more rarely than any modern president. This is particularly striking when considering commutations, or the power to lessen a sentence while maintaining the underlying conviction (a pardon wipes out the conviction). According to Linzer's calculations, "under Reagan and Clinton, applicants for commutations had a 1 in 100 chance of success. Under George W. Bush, that fell to a little less than 1 in 1,000. Under Obama, an applicant's chance is slightly less than 1 in 5,000."

The founding fathers did not intend for the pardon power to fall into such disuse. As the framers made clear, this vestigial power of kings is rooted in policy concerns that ring very true today. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 74, argued that "the criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel."

Our federal system of criminal law has, of late, been "too sanguinary and cruel." For example, thousands of federal prisoners still languish under long sentences doled out under the now-amended 100-to-1 ratio between powder and crack cocaine that was built into the federal statutes and sentencing guidelines. That ratio has been actively rejected by all three branches of government, but the only avenue to relief for those prisoners is commutation. President Obama should look to the approach President Ford employed for draft evaders in 1974: A mass commutation pursuant to a process created to provide careful review of each case.

Our criminal-justice system is a grotesque mess (that now includes for-profit operations dependent on there being a steady flow of new inmates). The whole shebang needs rethinking and revamping from top to bottom. No president or Congress or court can begin to make all the thoroughgoing changes so sorely needed. But executive power could and should be used to bring fairness—and justice—to at least a few prisoners who should no longer be behind bars as well as some who never should have been there in the first place.


Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2011New public study: Watching Fox News makes you dumber:

We've had similar studies before, but here's a new one to add to the pile:
A new Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind Poll finds that the Sunday morning political shows on television "do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who they don't watch any news at all."
Now that is an impressive accomplishment. You could literally turn your television off and you'd learn more through news osmosis via other means (reading, listening to the radio, overhearing random conversations on the street, talking with your plants) than you would by watching Fox News. Let's just savor that: Listening to Fox "News" makes you /i>less informed than not watching news at all.


Tweet of the Day:

Godwinturducken Directions: Stuff chicken into duck. Stuff duck into turkey. Call your Father-in-law a Nazi. Serves everyone.
@Wolfrum via web





Be sure to listen to today's extended Kagro in the Morning show! In fact, if you don't listen to anything else today, make sure it's that bonus 3rd hour, because that's when we talked to Mike Hummell, known to Daily Kos readers as bluebarnstormer. He's the author of the insider's diaries on the Hostess strike, and a member of the Bakers' Union at the center of the drama. And frankly, he's the only one making a lick of common sense in this whole thing. Be sure to listen in and find out why.


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