WASHINGTON - When
And then, after it arrived on Aug. 3, he refused to accept it.
Jones’ turnabout highlights the strings that come attached to an increasing number of Obama’s commutations: In this case, enrollment in a residential drug treatment program -- which has been a condition of 92 of Obama commutation grants. Jones is the first to refuse that condition.
If Jones had agreed to complete the the program, he would be out in two years. He still has six years left on his original 2002 sentence for drug trafficking, but Jones may be counting on getting time off for good behavior, which would have him released in April 2019 -- eight months longer than if he had accepted the commutation. Jones is in a low-security federal prison in
The unusual rejection came to light last week, when Obama commuted the sentences of 102 more federal inmates. With the 673 previous commutations granted, the total should have been 775 -- but the White House accounting had only 774.
At about the same time, the Department of Justice updated its online record of Obama's commutations and updated Jones' entry with the notation: "condition declined, commutation not effectuated."
Jones' mother said Thursday that she was excited about the news of Obama's commutation and wasn't aware that it was rejected. "I don’t know about him declining or anything. I'm looking for my son to come home," said
Unlike pardons, which represent a full legal forgiveness for a crime, commutations can shorten a prison sentence while leaving other consequences intact. And as Obama has increased his use of commutations in his last year in office, he's also gotten more creative in adapting the power to fit the circumstances of each case. Unlike the more common "time served" commutations, which release a prisoner more or less immediately, many of his commutations since August have been "term" commutations, which have left prisoners with years left to serve on their sentences.
At the same time, Obama has also begun to attach drug treatment as a condition of many of those pardons, beginning with Jones' class of 214 commutations on Aug. 3 -- the single largest grant of clemency in a single day in the history of the presidency.
That day, White House Counsel
"For some, the president believes that the applicant’s successful re-entry will be aided with additional drug treatment, and the president has conditioned those commutations on an applicant’s seeking that treatment," Eggleston wrote. "Underlying all the President’s commutation decisions is the belief that these deserving individuals should be given the tools to succeed in their second chance."
Since Aug. 3, 22% of the commutations he's issued have required drug treatment.
Conditional pardons and commutations have been part of presidential clemency almost since the beginning. Presidents have used that power to induce prisoners to join the military, leave the United States or even — in the case of President
It's not the first time Obama has attached conditions, either. In January, he granted clemency to seven Iranians accused or convicted of of espionage as part of a "humanitarian gesture" that has since been criticized by congressional Republicans as a hostage swap. All seven had to agree not to sue the federal government over their detention, and Obama included a "
But it's extremely rare for a recipient to reject clemency outright once it's granted. P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist who has cataloged 30,642 presidential clemency actions dating back to
Forlini rejected that condition, and two weeks later Hoover granted him a full, unconditional pardon. "There's a guy who played his cards right," Ruckman said. (Alas, Forlini was arrested in New York in 1931 trying to pull off a similar scam on an undercover detective.)
In 1999, Clinton offered to commute the sentence of 14 members of a
Others have accepted presidential clemency only to challenge the conditions after the fact. In 1960, President