by Jordan Arizmendi
A raft of Presidential pardons for federal marijuana-possession convictions ballooned the total number of clemencies extended to current and former prisoners by Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D). But even without those pardons, Biden had by April 2023 far out-paced his predecessor, Pres. Donald J. Trump (R) – though both remain behind the last Democratic President, Barack Obama.
Biden pardoned six people at the end of 2022, including Beverly Ann Ibn-Tamas, 80, who was sentenced in 1977 for killing her husband after he beat her while she was pregnant. Another pardon went to Charles Byrnes-Jackson, 77, who pleaded guilty in 1964 to selling liquor without federal tax stamps. Also pardoned was John Dix Nock III, 72, who was sentenced in 1996 for growing marijuana. Another pardon for marijuana trafficking went to Edward Lincoln De Coito III, 50; he was sentenced in 1999. Gary Parks Davis, 66, was pardoned for an over-the-phone cocaine buy that he was sentenced for in 1979. For using ecstasy and alcohol while serving in the Air Force when he was 19, Vincente Ray Flores, 37, was sentenced in 2008. He also was pardoned.
A pardon recognizes both acceptance of criminal responsibility and that good behavior has been maintained for a “significant” period after completing a sentence. A pardon also restores any civil rights lost at conviction.
On October 6, 2022, Biden pardoned an estimated 6,500 people convicted of simple marijuana possession under 21 U.S.C. 844, plus thousands more convicted under D.C. Code 48–904.01(d)(1). The pardons were not extended to anyone in the country illegally at the time of arrest. After the White House announcement, the stock of cannabis companies soared.
Unlike a pardon, a commutation does not end a criminal penalty but merely shortens its sentence. Both are considered clemencies. Over his first 27.5 months in office, Biden averaged 4.36 clemencies per month. By comparison, Trump averaged 0.89 during his first 44 months in office, and Obama averaged 8.02 over his first 92.5 months. The last 3.5 months of both terms were omitted from the analysis, since Presidents tend to cluster clemency grants at the end of their terms. See: Clemency Statistics, U.S. Dep’t of Justice (June 1, 2023).
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