Biden issues first pardons, prison commutations of presidency

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Tuesday issued three pardons and 75 commutations of sentences in his first pardons since taking office.

All commutations and two of the three pardons went to persons convicted of federal drug offenses.

“Today I am pardoning three people who have demonstrated their dedication to rehabilitation and who strive every day to give back and contribute to their communities,” Biden said in a statement.

“I am also commuting the sentences of 75 people who are serving lengthy sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, many of whom have been confined at home during the COVID pandemic – and many of whom would have received a reduced sentence had it been thanks to the charged with the same offense today under the bipartisan First Step Act.”

Biden pardoned former Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden, 87, who had been sentenced to six years in prison for bribery in 1964. He was the first black person to be assigned to a presidential protection team.

Biden also pardoned Houston-based Betty Jo Bogans, 51, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in 1998 for possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine, and Georgia-based Dexter Jackson, 52, who pleaded guilty in 2002 known to have allowed cannabis dealers to use his property. Jackson runs a phone repair company.

58 of the 75 sentence conversions are scheduled to take effect in 2023, with most of those recipients technically under house arrest by then.

Abraham Bolden, 29, a suspended US Secret Service agent, is shown here with his wife in the corridor of the federal building before he was indicted.
Biden pardoned former Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden, who was sentenced to six years in prison in 1964 for bribery.
Bettmann Archive

A White House official told the Post that the decision to delay the effective date for many cases was consistent with the practice of some previous administrations. He added that “these grants, which reduce prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, will have a significant impact on the lives of those affected.”

“President Biden enacted more sentence conversions at this early point in his presidency than any of his last five predecessors at the same time in their first term,” the official said. “President Biden acted quickly to express his deep commitment to reforming our justice system, addressing racial differences and giving a second chance to people who are working hard to transform their lives. At the same time, this is only the first tranche. The President and his team will continue to review requests for additional pardons from nonviolent drug offenders.”

Biden is responsible for some of the toughest drug laws in the country, but he turned around ahead of the 2020 campaign to support criminal justice reform. He even said he wants “everyone” out in prison for marijuana.

Only five people incarcerated solely for marijuana will receive commutation and some of them will spend more time behind bars.

Nebraska native Jose Colunga, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for trafficking marijuana in 2010, will now be released in October 2023 — not on his estimated release date of 2027, according to a White House fact sheet. Texas resident Fermin Serna’s sentence , which was sentenced to 20 years in prison, expires in August 2022, not 2030.

A front loader picks up a huge amount of grass.
There are approximately 2,700 federal inmates incarcerated for marijuana.
AP/Idaho State Journal, Doug Lindley

Stacie Demers of Constable, New York, and Carry Le of Georgia – who were sentenced to 10 years in prison for cannabis trafficking in 2016 – will be placed under house arrest for a year, as will Quang Nguyen of Houston, who was sentenced to 10 years pot in 2017 .

There are approximately 2,700 federal marijuana inmates and many high-profile cases have not made it.

It was not initially clear what role external lobbying played in the clemency petitions.

A government official told reporters on a call Monday night that “the Justice Department makes recommendations to the president, and the president acts on those recommendations,” which would mark a break from the Trump era, when pardon groups and influential figures routinely gained the upper hand over the president.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a Save America rally at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio, on April 23, 2022.
On his last day as president, Donald Trump released two prisoners who were serving life without parole on marijuana as part of a three-strike policy that Biden expanded.

The official said Biden “understands that too many people are serving very long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes and is therefore using his power of clemency to try to address that.”

Biden advocated and authored extremely harsh penalties for drug crimes in the 1980s and 1990s. He advocated a since-repealed 100:1 disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine, which was more commonly used by blacks, and powder cocaine. And Biden’s 1994 law provided $12.5 billion in grants to encourage states to pass “truth in sentencing” laws that required inmates to serve most of their sentences.

Many drug dealers were sentenced to life in prison under the three-strike policy expanded by Biden’s 1994 criminal law. Former President Donald Trump released two prisoners who were serving life without parole on marijuana charges under this rule on his last day in office.

Closeup on handcuffs.
Biden’s 1994 law imposed life sentences on drug dealers as part of the three-strike policy.
Getty Images

Whether Biden’s 1994 law contributed to the “mass incarceration” of minorities — including expelling the black prison population to heaven — was the subject of heated debate during the 2020 election.

New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice found that the law “contributed to a boom in prison construction” and that “some states had already begun to enact tougher criminal laws, legislation rewarding states for these decisions, and others strong incentives to adopt them. ”

The total number of prisoners in the US rose from less than 1.6 million in 1995 to over 2 million in 2002.

In a fiery speech before the Senate in 1994, Biden said, “Every time Richard Nixon said ‘law and order’ when he ran for office in 1972, the Democratic match or response was ‘law and order with justice’ — whatever that is.” is meant. And I would say, ‘Lock up the SOBs.’”

Cornel West, philosopher, author, activist and Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard, speaks at the WEB Du Bois Medal Ceremony at the Sanders Theater on October 22, 2019 in Cambridge, MA.
Cornel West said Biden was responsible for the mass incarceration under his 1994 criminal law.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

Even some Biden supporters beat his record in the presidential campaign.

Left-wing activist and philosopher Cornel West, who reluctantly endorsed Biden in 2020, said in an interview: “When [Biden] says [the 1994 law] did not contribute to the mass incarceration, I tell him he needs to put down his symbolic crack pipe.”

Radio host Charlamange Tha God said during a TV interview: “When [Biden] was at the breakfast club, another part of this interview that people miss is that i asked him about the crime statute 1994 and that the crime statute 1994 is the catalyst for mass incarceration in this country. And he said it’s not the felony statute, it’s the mandatory minimum sentence of 86. But I’m like, ‘Joe, you wrote that too.’ “

Alice Johnson delivers a full pardon signed by President Donald Trump Friday, August 28, 2020 in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
Alice Johnson was serving a life sentence until she was released from prison by Trump.
AP/Evan Vucci

The 1986 Biden Act resulted in a life sentence for Alice Johnson, the prominent former prisoner and attorney who was released from prison by Trump at Kim Kardashian’s urging.

Trump tried to gain traction among black voters during the 2020 election by campaigning for his First Step Act, which restricted some Biden policies, including reducing the penalty for a third striker to 25 years in prison. Biden issues first pardons, prison commutations of presidency


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