Crime

Bellingham man among 58 drug offenders granted clemency by Obama

President Barack Obama on Thursday, May 5 commuted the prison sentences of 61 people serving time for drug-related offenses. Most will be released July 28. The action is part of a broader effort to overhaul the criminal justice system and ease punishments for nonviolent drug offenders.
President Barack Obama on Thursday, May 5 commuted the prison sentences of 61 people serving time for drug-related offenses. Most will be released July 28. The action is part of a broader effort to overhaul the criminal justice system and ease punishments for nonviolent drug offenders. AP

A Bellingham man in prison since 2003 is among 58 drug offenders who had their prison sentences shortened by President Barack Obama on Thursday, May 5.

Obama has issued 248 drug-related commutations, more than the past six presidents combined, according to the White House. More than a third of the inmates who received commutations were serving life sentences.

“They’re Americans who’d been serving time on the kind of outdated sentences that are clogging up our jails and burning through our tax dollars,” Obama said in a statement on Facebook. “Simply put, their punishments didn’t fit the crime.”

Rick Lee Lamere of Bellingham pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute after his arrest in Great Falls, Mont., in 2003. Because he had at least two prior felony drug convictions, he faced a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of release. In a plea deal, he was sentenced to more than 38 years in prison, later amended to more than 26 years with 10 years of supervised release.

92 Life sentences that President Barack Obama has commuted

In a letter to Lamere and the 57 other inmates receiving the commutations, Obama wrote that this act “embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws.”

The Obama administration has long called for an overhaul of the criminal justice system, focusing on getting rid of overly harsh sentences for drug offenses and strict mandatory minimums that led to high incarceration rates. Since his administration announced its clemency initiative in 2014, thousands of inmates have applied.

Another 9,115 clemency petitions from prisoners are still pending, according to the Marshall Project, a news website devoted to criminal justice issues. Although there is bipartisan support in Congress for reforming the criminal justice system, the chaotic election year has pushed it to the background.

All of the inmates who had their sentences commuted by the president were serving time for drug possession, intent to sell drugs, and related crimes. Except for a few charged with firearms violations, most were nonviolent offenders.

In order to qualify for a commutation, inmates have to have served at least 10 years of their sentence, have demonstrated good conduct in prison, and have no significant criminal history or connections to gangs, cartels or other organized crime.

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