Almost two decades ago, Reynolds Wintersmith, Jr., 17 years old at the time, was arrested then sentenced to life in prison for dealing crack cocaine. He was part of the high profile prosecution of the Gangster Disciples drug ring in Rockford in 1994. That's the one that sent kingpin Karl Fort also to prison for life. Thursday, President Obama commuted Wintersmith's sentence.
"A commutation simply reduces the severity of a sentence, so you can commute a death sentence to life, or a life sentence to a term of years." -says P.S. Ruckman, Jr., Rockford area political expert and owner of the blog 'Pardon Power.'
"Usually, if a president uses pardon power it is for a pardon, which simply restores rights, so no one's being sprung from prison. The judgment from judges and juries are not being overturned, that's the typical scenario. But, a commutation does free someone from prison and those are freakishly rare since about the late 1960's." -Ruckman explains.
While it's uncommon for any recent president to pardon, or commute, it's even more-so for our current leader. He joins names like Washington, Adams, Harrison and Garfield with his limited use of pardon power.
"There are only four other presidents, ever, who granted less pardons than President Obama. One of them was assassinated, another died of pneumonia fairly early in the term, another only served one term." -Ruckman says.
President Obama calls sentences, like the one given to Reynolds Wintersmith, too harsh, leading to overcrowding prisons and overspending taxpayer dollars. Ruckman says reducing eight punishments, six of them life terms, is a good start.
"Because this is a big controversy in our legal system right now. There are literally thousands of people in our federal prisons who would not be there right now if they were sentenced under the current laws."
Wintersmith will be released in April 2014.
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