The Obama administration has been among the harshest critics of mandatory minimum sentences and lengthy sentences for drug offenders. With Oklahoma being among the states with the harshest drug penalties, it should come as no surprise that the latest of sentences commuted by the President would include at least one Oklahoman.
On Friday, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 95 federal inmates--including the full pardons of two people convicted of counterfeiting and bank fraud.
Most of the 95 recipients of a "Christmastime pardon" were drug offenders, which fits the agenda addressed by Attorney General Eric Holder, when he stated that the federal government would no longer be seeking "draconian" mandatory minimum sentences against low-lever drug offenders.
One of these drug offenders whose sentence has been shortened by presidential commutation is an Oklahoma man convicted of selling cocaine. Darnell Jamar Nash, 37, of Ardmore, was charged in 2004 along with several co-conspirators in a 20-count indictment in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma in Muskogee. He accepted a plea agreement that sentenced him to 264 months in prison followed by 10 years of probation. Nash was sent to serve his sentence in a federal prison in Louisiana.
President Obama commuted his drug conspiracy sentence from 22 years to roughly 12 years; he is now scheduled for release on April 16, 2016. Rather than 10 years of probation, he will serve three.
Another Oklahoma drug offender, John Thomas Watters, is also receiving a presidential commutation for Christmas. Watters was convicted in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa for his part in a marijuana grow operation. He was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, maintaining drug involved premises, and being a felon in possession of firearms. Watters was sentenced in 2006 to 240 months in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release. Like Nash, his commutation sets his release date for April 16, 2016; however, his 10 years of probation remain intact.
With this latest round of clemency, President Obama has now commuted the sentences of 184 people--more than any president since Lyndon B. Johnson, who granted clemency to 224 people. However, some are critical of his timing. After all, half of those were granted on Friday--in time for Christmas and late in his term. Over 60 percent of Obama's commutations have been "Christmas" commutations, prompting one law professor to ask, "Why can't we have this good spirit all year?" and saying that these late-term and Christmastime commutations and pardons are "a sign of a broken process." Mark Osler, professor of law at Minneapolis's University of St. Thomas criticized the timing, telling USA Today, "It's even worse if a president is 'saving up' good petitions to grant at the end of the year. That means that men and women are spending months in prison so that a political show can be scheduled for 'the most wonderful time of the year.' "