July 13, 2015

Obama commutes NM man serving on marijuana charges

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Steve Jurvetson

Photo Credit: jurvetson via Compfight cc

A Las Cruces man behind bars for marijuana possession is among the 46 people whose prison sentences President Obama commuted today.

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Steve Jurvetson

Courtesy Steve Jurvetson

In 2004, John M. Wyatt was convicted with possessing and attempting to distribute more than 220 pounds of marijuana in southern Illinois. His sentence netted him nearly 22 years in prison plus an extra eight years on supervised release.

Wyatt, 54, is serving his sentence at a low security Federal Correctional Institution in La Tuna, Texas. He was set to be released in November 2021 until Obama’s commute.

The long length of Wyatt’s prison sentence also came from being convicted as a “career offender” for walking out of a halfway house he was living in from a previous conviction.

His attorneys’ attempts to shorten this sentence over the years, most recently last September, were unsuccessful until today.

Wyatt’s commute comes as part of a recent nationwide tide supporting criminal justice reform—a trend that New Mexico doesn’t seem close to catching up to, as New Mexico Political Report recently reported.

In a videotaped announcement released today, Obama stressed that nearly all of the 46 people he’s commuting would be out of prison already if they were sentenced under today’s laws.

Nearly all were nonviolent offenders. Fourteen of them, not including Wyatt, were sentenced behind bars for life for drug offenses.

“These men and women are not hardened criminals, but the overwhelming majority have been sentenced to at least 20 years,” he said. “So their punishments didn’t fit the crime.”

Obama also spoke about the trend of bipartisan support for criminal justice reform.

“Right now, with our overall crime rate and incarceration rate both falling, we’re in a moment when some good people in both parties—Republicans and Democrats—and folks all across the country are coming together around ideas to make the system work smarter,” he said. “Make it work better.”

Obama is expected to speak about criminal justice reform in a speech this Tuesday at the NAACP in Philadelphia and visit a federal prison in Oklahoma later this week.

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