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Presidential pardons highlight need for drug law reform

New Jersey residents who have been convicted and imprisoned for nonviolent federal drug crimes may have heard that President Barack Obama has been commuting the sentences of large numbers of prisoners. By the end of August 2016, the president had doled out some 673 commutations, which news sources report was greater than the number granted by the previous 10 presidents put together.

On Aug. 30, 2016, the president added another 111 commutations to his growing tally, setting a record for the largest amount granted in a single month. Advocates say that to be considered for clemency, prisoners must satisfy a number of requirements, including not having links to organized crime. They also can't be violent offenders, and they must have exhibited exemplary behavior during the course of their incarceration.

Most of those whose sentences were commuted would have been serving far shorter terms if they were sentenced under current guidelines. Because the president is approaching the end of his second term, Congress will need to continue his reform policies by implementing new legislation. Observers note, however, that political resistance could hinder the implementation of any lenient criminal justice bills.

Although many Americans support the idea of criminal justice reform, actually passing new laws takes time. With no less than 200,000 inmates held in federal prison, the likelihood of individual clemency requests even being heard by the president is also exceedingly low. Individuals who face criminal allegations and potential jail sentences might find it extremely difficult to extricate themselves from the broken criminal justice system once it takes them in. The accused may want to speak to an attorney about building an effective defense prior to going before a judge.

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