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ACLU Files Commutation Petition On Behalf Of Man Serving Unjust Prison Sentence For Non-Violent Crime

Kenneth Lumpkin Victim Of Discriminatory Sentencing Disparity Between Crack And Powder Cocaine

American Civil Liberties Union and the Los Angeles-based law firm
Caldwell Leslie and Proctor, PC today asked President Obama to commute
the remaining sentence of Kenneth J. Lumpkin, a father of four serving
the 15th year of an unjust 20-year prison sentence for a non-violent
offense. Along with a commutation petition, the ACLU today filed with
the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney over 30
letters in support of commutation for Lumpkin, including several from
staff members at the Taft Correctional Institution in California, the
minimum security facility where Lumpkin is currently incarcerated.

“I accept full
responsibility for what I did, and it is not an exaggeration to say I
regret it every day,” Lumpkin said. “But my hope is that you see clearly
the man I have become and that I have made a lifetime commitment to
change. My 20-year prison sentence is clearly excessive, and if you find
it in your heart to commute my sentence there would be no words to
express my deepest gratitude.”

Lumpkin was
convicted in 1996 of a non-violent drug-related offense for playing a
minor role in a conspiracy to sell and distribute crack cocaine.
Lumpkin’s 20-year sentence was mandated by law under unfair and
discriminatory U.S. sentencing guidelines that, at the time of his
sentencing, punished crack cocaine related offenses 100 times more
severely than offenses related to powder cocaine. At the time of his
sentencing, the judge in Lumpkin’s case lamented what he called the
“very, very harsh” nature of the sentence called for by law, saying that
his “hands [we]re tied.” And after presiding over a recent motion to
have Lumpkin’s sentence reduced, U.S. District Court Judge David O.
Carter praised Lumpkin for his efforts to rehabilitate himself before
reluctantly concluding that “the law as it stands does not allow for
this Court to reduce Lumpkin’s sentence.” 

Lumpkin is one of
thousands of people in this country, a disproportionate number of whom
are people of color, who have been given extremely long sentences under
the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The Fair
Sentencing Act passed by Congress last year reduced the disparity from
100-to-1 to 18-to-1 but did not fully eliminate it.

Had Lumpkin’s
offense involved powder instead of crack cocaine – the same quantity of
the same drug in a different form – his mandatory minimum sentence would
have been 10 years instead of 20, he would have already served his
entire sentence, he would have been there to watch his children graduate
from high school and the birth of his first grandchild and he would
have been able to help care for his mother, who is recuperating from a
stroke she suffered several years ago.

“The case of Kenny
Lumpkin exemplifies why it is so urgent that our country re-think
mandatory minimum sentences and a one-size-fits-all approach to
sentencing,” said Scott Michelman, staff attorney with the ACLU Criminal
Law Reform Project. “The Fair Sentencing Act was a step in the right
direction, but individuals like Kenny have fallen through the cracks,
and it is essential that the president use his commutation power to
right these historical, but still ongoing, wrongs.”

Lumpkin is the
latest person to seek commutation as part of a larger project designed
by the ACLU called “Dear Mr. President, Yes You Can,” which brings
together civil rights advocates, legal scholars, law school clinics, pro
bono counsel and others to urge President Obama to use his 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. Last year,
the ACLU filed a commutation petition with President Obama on behalf of
Hamedah Hasan, a mother and grandmother now serving the 18th year of an
unjust 27-year prison sentence for a first time, non-violent crack
cocaine conspiracy offense. That petition is still pending after nearly a
full year.

Though Lumpkin’s
excessive punishment as a result of the crack-powder sentencing
disparity is not unique, his conduct while incarcerated has demonstrated
a level of rehabilitation that officials at his correctional
institution consider extraordinary. After being transferred several
years ago from a medium security prison to a fenceless minimum security
camp several years ago, Lumpkin has taken virtually all of the college
courses available to him, teaches two art classes a week to fellow
prisoners and leads them in a community mural painting project, is
active in his Native American religious group, and is executive chairman
of a group called Those Outspoken Against Drugs (TOAD), a select group
of prisoners who speak to teenagers at local schools and juvenile halls
about taking responsibility for one’s own actions, making good choices
and the dangers of drugs.

Lumpkin’s conduct
at the camp has earned the respect and sincere admiration of not only
fellow inmates – both long-timers and those recently incarcerated – but
also of members of the prison staff, including the Associate Warden, who
have all written to declare their support for Mr. Lumpkin’s early

“Only the
president can do what is right for Kenny, his family and friends, all
the other prisoners who look up to Kenny as a role model for their own
rehabilitation and the correctional officers who point to Kenny as a
model prisoner,” said Michael V. Schafler of Caldwell Leslie &
Proctor, PC. “Granting Kenny’s commutation will signal to everyone who
has watched Kenny work tirelessly to better himself, including his
fellow prisoners, the children in his neighborhood and church, and those
with whom he has worked through the TOAD program, that it is never too
late to change.”

information about the ACLU’s work on behalf of Lumpkin and Hasan,
including a newly released video documenting Hasan’s story, is available
online at:


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