Since President Obama took office in 2008, he has received requests for 1,888 pardons and 16,523 commutations. Of these thousands of requests, Obama has awarded 64 and 43, respectively. Pardons are awarded to individuals who were found guilty of a crime once they have already served their sentence and include forgiveness for their alleged crimes. Some pardons fully restore certain rights that convicted criminals lose, but others, like conditional pardons, have provisions added to the pardon. Commutations are an early release of a prisoner who has been granted clemency, or official overall forgiveness.
The Fair Sentencing Act was passed by Congress in 2010, aiming to decrease the sentencing disparity between offenses of crack and powder cocaine. As a result of this act being passed, Obama commuted the sentences of 22 individuals, who, as a White House staffer said in an interview with “The Huffington Post,” would have already finished serving their sentence if they had been fairly sentenced.
One individual faced life imprisonment for conspiring to distribute and possess cocaine base but received commutation and was released April 15. Another individual who was granted a pardon served five years in 1969 for misappropriating bank funds.
Another factor in awarding individuals with clemency is the Clemency Project. This project is composed of lawyers and advocates who work pro-bono to provide assistance to federal prisoners who they believe would have completed serving their time if the sentence had been fairly given. This organization was created January 2014 after Deputy Attorney General James Cole requested legal professionals to help these individuals. In the last round of individuals granted clemency, four of them received aid and representation from the Clemency Project.
Cynthia Roseberry, the manager of the Clemency Project, said that this organization ”continues to submit petitions at an increasing pace and looks forward to more regular grants by the President.”
For more information on the presidential history of awarding clemency and pardons, see the Justice Department’s website.