Barack Obama has had a historical run as the president of our nation for many different reasons. One of the ways he’s made history is by granting clemency, or commuting (shortening) the prison sentences of many individuals who were sent behind bars on very harsh sentences.
The individuals were all sent to jail after committing nonviolent crimes while the War on Drugs was raging in America. Why offer clemency to these prisoners?
There have been many legal reforms as to how we sentence drug criminals in recent years. If convicted today, the individuals in question would have received notably shorter sentences. So Obama has decided to send many of them home.
All told, Obama has commuted 673 sentences. If that seems like a lot, it is. During his presidency, George W. Bush commuted 11 sentences. Clinton commuted 65.
In fact, Obama has commuted more sentences than the last 10 presidents combined! The day that Obama granted commutations to 214 federal inmates, he set the record for the most commutations granted in one day.
What is perhaps just as amazing is the fact that nearly 1 in 10 prisoners granted clemency by Obama are from the Sunshine State. Many of these individuals believed that they were going to die in prison.
Such a large number of individuals from our home state raises all kinds of questions about Florida’s drug policies from back when the War on Drugs was in full swing. A huge number of cases came out of Florida, and an astounding 76 percent of our cases involved a black defendant.
To really understand the impact, we’re going to look closely at an individual story.
A Casualty of the War on Drugs in Florida
One example of someone who received clemency is Fulton Washington. He was convicted on charges of conspiring to manufacture PCP and spent nearly 20 years in prison on a life sentence.
That’s right. Conspiring. The drug was not actually produced, but federal investigators said that Washington and three other defendants had purchased chemicals that could possibly produce 623 pounds of PCP.
Because he had previously been convicted for other nonviolent drug charges, he was sentenced to life.
But while in prison, he demonstrated good behavior (one of the criteria for clemency). He also did not have a significant criminal history, or ties of violence to large criminal organizations.
So earlier this year, he was finally able to go home.
Now, he spends his time teaching art classes and creating art for his friends and families.
His story has a happy ending. But to get there he had to spend 21 years in prison.
It’s a familiar story. And sadly, despite changes to drug sentencing, things aren’t all that much better today.
Penalties for Drug Manufacturing in State and Federal Court
Drug cultivation or manufacturing is a charge given to individuals suspected of growing marijuana plants, or making controlled substances like cocaine, methamphetamine, or PCP. Drug manufacturing can be tried in state or federal court depending on the situation and location of the manufacturing activities.
Fulton Washington was arrested on federal charges. Like Washington, you do not have to have made the finished product to be arrested for drug manufacturing. Simply possessing specific chemicals can get you charged.
In Florida, drug manufacturing is a second degree felony, although in certain cases, marijuana cultivation may be charged as a third degree felony. You can also be charged with a third degree felony for renting a property to manufacture controlled substances, a charge that can be bumped up to a first degree felony if the manufacturing/cultivation is done in a drug-free zone.
Only the cultivation of marijuana has separate penalties. Everything else is pretty straightforward. Cultivation of marijuana may result in up to 5 years in prison and/or fines of up to $5,000. Other cultivation or manufacturing charges may result in up to 15 years in jail and fines of up to $10,000.
You may have noticed that these sentences are far from a life sentence, which is what Fulton Washington received.
Remember, Washington was tried in federal court. The minimum sentence for the amount of PCP he and three other defendants allegedly conspired to manufacture is 10 years in prison. That’s just for one count, and it only applies to a first offense. As you can see, federal charges are typically much harsher than state penalties.
Bottom line? Drug sentences are starting to become more reasonable, but there’s still a long way to go. The best way to protect your future is to fight back against charges with a strong defense. To give yourself the best chance at a positive outcome, reach out to an experienced Florida drug crimes lawyer right now.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.