December 19th, 2013
01:54 PM ET
7 months ago

Kin of Massachusetts' governor gets Obama commutation

Updated 7:13 p.m., 12/19/2013

(CNN) - A cousin of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was one of eight people whose long prison sentences for cocaine offenses were commuted on Thursday by President Barack Obama.

Reynolds Allen Wintersmith, said to be a first cousin of Patrick, was convicted in 1994 for possession and intent to distribute cocaine, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Patrick, a friend and close political ally of the President, has "no recollection" of meeting Wintersmith, noting a difference in their ages, according to a source in the Governor's office.

Patrick's office said the Massachusetts Democrat was not involved in any application for a commutation of Wintersmith's sentence and learned of it through media reports.

The White House said Patrick didn't request anything of the administration and that the family ties didn't impact the decision.

Obama, who has sparingly used his pardon and commutation powers, provided relief to people convicted of crack cocaine offenses under laws calling for strict mandatory sentences.

The eight offenders have each served more than 15 years in prison, which the White House said amounted to "unduly harsh sentences issued under an outdated sentencing regime."

If convicted under current sentencing laws, those people would be given lighter sentences, the White House added.

Obama has decried the disparity between mandatory punishments for crack cocaine use versus the powdered form of the drug. In 2010, he signed the Fair Sentencing Act in a bid to bring the penalties closer together.

"Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness," Obama said in a statement.

Wintersmith appealed his case to the Supreme Court, which upheld the sentence in 1998.

He and four other defendants questioned the formula used by the judge to determine prison time after concluding the illegal conduct involved distributing both crack and powdered cocaine.

The defendants said the judge wrongly assumed crack was involved when that was not clear in the original charges.

But the court sided with the government.

The Supreme Court has struggled for years in these kinds of cases, in trying to determine whether the sentencing guidelines imposed by Congress for crack cocaine - producing longer prison terms than for powder cocaine offenses - were unfair.

CNN's Kevin Liptak, Paul Steinhauser, Brianna Keilar, Bill Mears, and Dana Davidsen contributed to this report.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (330 Responses)
  1. Quixote

    A good way to start focusing efforts on changing the ridiculous sentencing policies and overall drug policy in the US. Too many lives ruined because people have a disease.

    December 20, 2013 05:33 am at 5:33 am |
  2. bear

    If Dick Cheney did not go to jail,everyone should be pardoned.

    December 20, 2013 06:29 am at 6:29 am |
  3. JLS639

    Good. More victimless drug offenses should be commuted.

    December 20, 2013 06:56 am at 6:56 am |
  4. yesyes

    If these people already served 15 years for their crime, and if their crime truely was basically dealing- nothing more, then I suppose I'm ok with it. Like one poster said, make room then for the more hardened criminals that are overflowing in our society.... But do I think this could be associated to being a politcal/racial move on Obama's end? Hmmmmm, could be rabbit, could be.......

    December 20, 2013 07:03 am at 7:03 am |
  5. current state of the union

    Surprised it wasn't all eight

    December 20, 2013 07:08 am at 7:08 am |
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