In an unprecedented move, the Obama administration is actively encouraging defense attorneys and prison officials to recommend inmates who are serving sentences for “low-level” drug offenses for clemency. Clemency is the act of pardoning a convicted criminal so that legally the crime was never committed. It can also include simply reducing the sentence that the defendant received. The Obama administration has not clarified which form of clemency will be applied, nor have they specified whether the initiative will include only federal prisoners, or perhaps state prisoners as well. It would appear from context that the initiative will be limited to federal prisoners, as the examples given all involved federal inmates. This unconventional move is part of the Obama administration’s effort to reduce punishments for “low-level” drug offenses. No definition was provided for what a “low-level” offense is, but if only federal offenses will be considered, it should be noted that it normally takes a substantial drug case in order to be jailed in a federal prison. The administration specifically referenced a sentencing disparity that existed prior to 2010, between powder and crack cocaine. Their point seems to be that minority populations were more severely penalized for crack cocaine sales than white people were for powder cocaine usage. The thrust of the initiative seems designed to remedy that disparity by releasing minority prisoners incarcerated for lengthy terms of prison due to the sale of crack cocaine. There are still inmates in prison who were sentenced under the harsher sentencing guidelines, which is why Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole is recommending that these inmates apply for clemency and defense attorneys recommend potential candidates. Cole said that it is not fair that these inmates are still incarcerated after being sentenced under the old guidelines and that “it harms our criminal justice system.” If you know anyone who is serving a sentence stemming from the old sentencing guidelines, contact our office and we will make a recommendation. It may also be worth looking at nonviolent offenders who received harsh, lengthy sentences stemming from any sentencing schematic – even in state courts.