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Hundreds of prisoners receive commutations for drug sentences

Some South Carolina residents may have heard that Barack Obama commuted the largest number of sentences of any president in history. Of the total of 1,715 commutations, Obama issued 330 of those for drug-related crimes on the last full day of his presidency. He had struggled to reform harsh drug sentencing laws with little success, and the commutations were one aspect of that reform.

A commutation does not expunge a person's record in the same way a pardon does. In fact, some prisoners who sentences were commuted will not be leaving prison in 2017. One man, who has served 12 years of a 22-year sentence, will be released in 2019 as long as he enrolls in a residential drug treatment program. The man was sent to prison after being involved with his brother in a drug deal in which he and his brother were selling marijuana and cocaine. Although his brother sold the cocaine, he was charged with doing so as well.

There were several conditions that prisoners had to meet to be eligible for commutation. With a few exceptions, they had to have served a sentence of at least 10 years. They had to be nonviolent offenders who had good behavior while in prison. Many had worked hard to educate themselves or otherwise change their lives while in prison.

Even a first-time drug offense can lead to serious legal consequences, and people might even face charges due to the illegal activities of their associates. An attorney might be able to review an individual's options that might include plea bargaining, pleading innocent or seeking to have the case dismissed if constitutional rights were violated during the search that led to the seizure of the drugs in question.

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