Grandmother Will Mark President's Day by Petitioning Obama to Commute Her 27-Year Prison Sentence for Non-Violent Crime

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Anjuli Verma, (831) 471-9000 x11; averma@aclu.org

Grandmother Will Mark President's Day by Petitioning Obama to Commute Her 27-Year Prison Sentence for Non-Violent Crime

First Time Offender Is Victim of Disparate Sentencing Laws for Crack and Powder Cocaine

WASHINGTON - Hamedah
Hasan, a mother and grandmother serving her 17th year of a 27-year
federal prison sentence for a non-violent crime, asked President Obama
today to commute her remaining sentence. Hasan's petition was filed
with the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of the Pardon Attorney,
and was accompanied by almost 50 letters of support from prison
chaplains, community members, advocates, friends and family. The
American Civil Liberties Union represents Hasan in her commutation
petition.

"As our nation prepares to celebrate
President's Day, I am keenly aware that you - and you alone - Mr.
President, have the power to reunite me with my family," said Hasan.
"My intention is in no way to diminish the seriousness of my past
criminal actions or to deflect responsibility, but simply to ask for a
second chance. From everything I have observed, I believe you are a
compassionate and just man. I pray that you recognize my redeeming
qualities, see my 27-year sentence as excessive and grant me and my
family another chance to be together."

Hasan was convicted in 1993 for a
first time, non-violent crack cocaine conspiracy offense. Had Hasan
been convicted of the same crime involving the powder form of the drug,
she would have completed her prison sentence by now. This is because,
under federal law, it takes 100 times the amount of powder cocaine as
crack cocaine to trigger the same mandatory minimum sentence. The
impact of this disparity falls disproportionately on African Americans.
Although Hasan never used violence, never used drugs, had no previous
criminal record and played a peripheral role in the operation, the
United States Sentencing Guidelines at that time prescribed a sentence
of life in prison. Changes in the Sentencing Guidelines later resulted
in a reduction of Hasan's sentence to 27 years, over 16 of which she
has served with an outstanding behavior and work performance record.

"Hamedah's case is a textbook
example of how our nation's crack sentencing laws have produced
racially skewed and unfairly harsh sentences," said ACLU attorney Scott
Michelman. "Rarely does a commutation petition offer the president the
chance to redeem not just one person but also a larger aspect of our
nation's justice system."
 
In an unusual display of support for
a commutation petition by a federal judge, the Honorable Richard G.
Kopf, U.S. District of Nebraska, who sentenced Hasan in 1993, wrote a
letter to the Department of Justice Pardon Attorney's Office. In it,
Judge Kopf said, "...I can say, without equivocation, that Ms. Hasan is
deserving of the President's mercy. I have never supported such a
request in the past, and I doubt that I will support another one in the
future. That said, in this unique case, justice truly cries out for
relief."

In June 2009, the Honorable Laurie
Smith Camp, U.S. District of Nebraska, called Hasan's 27-year sentence
"unreasonable and excessive" and issued a dramatic downward departure
to 12 years, time served, which would have freed Hasan. Five days
later, Judge Smith Camp reluctantly reversed herself "with profound
regret and sincere apology to Defendant, Hasan," ruling that recent
changes in sentencing law did not apply to Hasan.

President Obama, Vice President
Biden and Attorney General Holder have publicly called for equalization
of federal sentences for crack and powder cocaine, and the U.S.
Sentencing Commission has called for reform of the crack-powder
sentencing disparity four times. President Obama's "Blueprint for
Change," published soon after he was elected in 2008, stated, "...the
disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong
and should be completely eliminated."

"By granting Hamedah Hasan's
petition, President Obama can signal to Congress and to the nation that
he's serious about restoring fairness to our criminal justice system,"
said Michelman.

Legislation is pending in the U.S.
House of Representatives and Senate. The Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing
Act, H.R.3245, introduced by Representative Robert Scott (D-VA), and
the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009, S. 1789, introduced by Senator Richard
Durbin (D-IL), would greatly reduce or completely eliminate the
sentencing disparity between the two forms of the same drug. Even if
the proposed reforms pass into law, however, Hasan's sentence will
remain intact because the legislation does not explicitly guarantee
retroactive application to current prisoners.

Hasan's petition is the first of
several in a larger project, dubbed "Dear Mr. President, Yes You Can."
The Dear Mr. President Project brings together civil rights advocates,
legal scholars, law school clinics, pro bono counsel and others to urge
President Obama to depart from the practices of his immediate
predecessors and use the pardon and commutation power in a principled
way, consistent with his administration's position that the crack
Sentencing Guidelines have been far too harsh. The Project also aims to
promote the president's clemency power as a means to correct historical
injustices.

Baylor Law School professor and
former federal prosecutor Mark Osler, who is a founding member of the
Project, noted, "President Obama has gone 387 days (and counting)
without granting a single pardon or commutation. This makes him one of
the slowest-acting presidents in history to exercise the power of
forgiveness. Thomas Jefferson employed the pardon power to eliminate
the sentences of those convicted under the shameful Alien and Sedition
Acts. President John F. Kennedy granted over 100 commutations in less
than three years in office. President Lyndon Johnson commuted 226
sentences. It's time for President Obama to revive the noble and
necessary function of executive clemency in Hamedah Hasan's case."

Hasan is the mother of three
daughters, Kamyra, 16, to whom Hasan gave birth in prison, Ayesha, 21,
and Kasaundra, 26. Hasan also has two grandchildren.

Hasan's commutation petition materials are available at: www.dearmrpresidentyesyoucan.org

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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