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President Obama commutes sentences for drug crimes

Washington residents may be interested to know that on Aug. 30, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 111 people serving time in federal prison for nonviolent drug crimes. Overall, the president has commuted 673 sentences since taking office, which is more than the previous 10 presidents combined. One out of every three people set free were serving a life sentence at the time of the pardon.

The White House counsel said that those who were set free had taken steps to rehabilitate themselves and had earned another chance. The latest commutations come after 214 other federal inmates were given clemency earlier in August 2016. It is part of a commitment from the president to get Congress to take action to help pass criminal justice reform legislation. The number of federal prison inmates has swelled from 25,000 in 1980 to over 200,000 in 2016.

While most of those granted a commutation will be released on Dec. 28, others will have to meet certain conditions before being released. One man has to enroll in a residential drug treatment facility and won't be allowed to go home until August 2018. Although some members of the GOP say that granting leniency could lead to higher rates of crime, each case was reviewed by Obama on its merits before a decision was made.

Those convicted of drug offenses could face many years in prison. However, an attorney may be able to create a defense to such charges that could lead to an acquittal or a plea agreement with the prosecutor that would reduce charges and penalties in exchange for a plea of guilty to a lesser offense. It must be noted, though, that the decision to enter into such an agreement lies solely with the defendant.

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