Residents in Iowa may remember the War on Drugs, the name officially and unofficially given to the reaction of past political regimes in their attempt to stop the widespread use of street drugs across the U.S. The popular wisdom at the time was that increasing the criminal penalty for people convicted of drug offenses, even mere possession, would curb drug use. From the 1980's through the early 2000's, the number of people in U.S. prisons for drug crimes absolutely skyrocketed, even though the effect on the drug trade was much less drastic.
Fortunately many things have changed since the War on Drugs, including the severe penalties for drug crimes. Despite that, there are still people paying the price for being at the wrong place at the wrong time and are still serving their time for drug crimes committed long ago.
However, a handful of these unfortunate inmates have also received some good news lately, including three in the state of Iowa. President Obama recently announced the commutation of the sentence these three men, each of whom were convicted of drug distribution crimes and sentenced to over 20 years in prison.
The three Iowa men were convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine base, otherwise known as crack. During the War on Drugs, the penalty for distribution of crack cocaine was greatly increased even over regular cocaine, even though they are substantially similar substances.
The reason that was given for the penalty increase was the addictiveness of crack cocaine, but courts have also found that the increased sentences also created an impermissible racial disparity because it was African-Americans who were largely the victim of these penalties. Now President Obama's administration has been providing these people relief from their lengthy sentences and they will be released on July 28 of this year.
Defendants accused of drug offenses probably can't count on getting a pardon or commutation from the President of the United States, but they can count on a criminal defense strategy to help them face and defend against their charges. Devising a defense against criminal allegations could help a defendant reduce or dismiss the charges against them, and obtaining legal guidance will help ensure they take the appropriate and timely steps in their defense strategy.
Source: Des Moines Register "3 Iowa cases among 22 Obama commutations," March 31, 2015