This week, President Obama commuted the sentences of 214 people incarcerated in federal prisons, including EJI client Ronald Evans, who was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for nonviolent drug offenses when he was a juvenile.
Mr. Evans (pictured, with his mother) was sentenced to die in prison after he was recruited into a drug dealing operation at age 16. Despite having no hope for release, Mr. Evans worked hard to educate himself. He overcame severe learning disabilities to earn a GED and completed extensive job training. He received only five disciplinary write-ups during 23 years in prison, and served as a counselor for troubled juveniles in the community.
EJI took on Mr. Evans’s case as part of our work challenging abusive sentences for children. After EJI attorneys argued in the United States Supreme Court for a constitutional ban on life-without-parole sentences for children, the Court struck down death-in-prison sentences for children convicted of non-homicide offenses in 2010 in Graham v. Florida.
Federal prosecutors initially argued that Graham did not apply to Mr. Evans’s case. EJI won a ruling from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that Graham did apply retroactively, and the prosecution then agreed not to oppose a sentence reduction for Mr. Evans. In 2015, Mr. Evans was resentenced to 30 years. The commutation will move up his release date to December 1, 2016.
The White House announced that 67 of Wednesday’s commutations are for people serving life sentences, almost all of which were for nonviolent drug crimes. The vast majority of the other commutations also involved nonviolent drug offenses.
This week’s commutations bring President Obama’s total to 562 – more than than any other individual president in nearly a century. Wednesday’s 214 grants represent the most grants in a single day since at least 1900.
White House counsel Neil Eggleston said in a statement that President Obama is expected to continue to grant clemency in a historic and inspiring fashion. “All of the individuals receiving commutation today, incarcerated under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws, embody the President’s belief that ‘America is a nation of second chances.'”
The White House stressed the urgency of sentencing reform. Mr. Eggleston told BuzzFeed, “We’re going to keep our foot on the gas pedal when it comes to reviewing applications for clemency, but we are also going to need leaders in both parties in Congress to pass long overdue reforms to our criminal justice system to achieve lasting change on the scale that is needed.”