Judge’s Request Raises Question About Obama’s Drug Clemency Effort


A federal judge is making an unusual plea for President Obama to cut short a cocaine dealer’s sentence under a Justice Department clemency program, but it’s not clear whether the prisoner being singled out for relief is even eligible for the new effort, Politico reports. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman in Washington, D.C., urged Obama to commute the sentence of Byron McDade, who was convicted of conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. Friedman sentenced McDade to 27 years in prison, the shortest sentence possible under federal sentencing guidelines, which were mandatory at the time. “The sentence this Court was required to impose on Mr. McDade was unjust at the time and is ‘out of line’ with and disproportionate to those that would be imposed under similar facts today,” Friedman wrote.

One of the six criteria Deputy Attorney General James Cole laid out for the new program is that candidates “are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels.” There was trial testimony that McDade took a “leadership role” and had “significant responsibilities” in the drug operation. That seems at odds with the requirement that clemency candidates be low-level offenders. Last year, Obama granted commutations to eight crack cocaine convicts and Attorney General Eric Holder said the new program is designed to bring the president similar cases at his request. Several of those who got commutations were not merely drug mules or lookouts. “Some of the eight had leadership roles,” said one lawyer. “If low level means no leadership role, some of the eight would not satisfy the criteria….That would be saying the Justice Department has put out criteria inconsistent with what the president did.”

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