President Obama orders another round of sentence commutations

Last week, President Obama signed an order commuting the sentences of 214 inmates convicted of crack cocaine-related offenses. The commutation order is the latest move by the Obama administration to address inequities in the criminal justice system impacting nonviolent drug offenders. In total, President Obama has extended clemency to 562 federal inmates, with previous orders benefiting between 40 and 50 inmates. In the most recent round of sentence commutations, 67 inmates were serving out a life sentence.

Alongside prison sentence commutations, the Obama administration has taken a number of other steps to promote reform of the criminal justice system. The motives for such reform are not only inequities in sentencing, but also overcrowding of prisons and the straining of the federal budget.

One of the aspects of reform that has been pushed by the Obama administration is so-called “mens rea” reform. The term literally means “guilty mind,” and refers to the principle that a criminal defendant must have had knowledge that he or she was breaking to law to be convicted of a crime.

Those who advocate a mens rea requirement argue that there has been an erosion of the requirement and that making it explicit would help make the criminal justice system fairer. Opponents argue that a mens rea requirement would make it easier for white collar criminals to avoid conviction.

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at mens rea in criminal law and the importance of always working with an experienced attorney to build a strong defense case.

Source: Real Clear Politics, “Hope Fade for Criminal Justice Reform This Year,” James Arkin, June 30, 2016.


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