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Last day busy for President Obama from commutation perspective

It's pretty clear that just-exited President Barack Obama wants his legacy to contain more than a footnote regarding one discrete subject that he clearly takes an interest in.

Namely, that is use of the presidential pardon/commutation prerogative that chief executives have historically exercised -- or notably refrained from invoking -- to materially adjust criminal sentencing outcomes in select cases.

Consider this: When Obama's final commutations announced on the very last day of his working tenure last Thursday are added into the mix, the revealed bottom line is that the former president commuted criminal sentences for more offenders than did all of the 11 presidents -- collectively -- who preceded him.

That is unquestionably being busy, with Obama's frenetic activity being on especially clear display during the latter half of his second term.

His focus: Lengthy prison terms for nonviolent and, often, first-time drug offenders. Obama consistently railed against such outcomes, insisting that greater equity be introduced into the federal sentencing scheme.

For many years, and as we have noted in past blog posts, such a view was a minority assessment. In recent years, though, a realization has grown -- in a broad and bipartisan sense -- that too many draconian sentencing outcomes have been inappropriately visited upon defendants who would have been far better served by an alternative sentencing disposition.

Although it is of course presently unclear how newly elected President Donald Trump might act regarding his clemency powers, especially concerning many long-incarcerated drug offenders, the trend toward leniency and an enhanced rationality in the criminal justice system is clear and unmistakable.

In all, President Obama granted 1,715 commutations, with 330 of them -- all pertaining to nonviolent drug offenders -- occurring on his final day as chief executive.

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