The Pardoning of Alice Johnson
Kim Kardashian West recently went to the White House to discuss the pardoning of Alice Johnson, a 62 year old woman who is serving a life sentence for a first time non-violent drug offense.
Johnson was sentenced to life in prison in 1997 after she was convicted of eight criminal counts related to a cocaine trafficking ring. Since appellate judges and the US Supreme Court have since rejected her appeals, Johnson would need to be granted clemency by the president to be discharged.
Johnson has serves over twenty years of her life sentence without parole. So far she has become an ordained minister, a playwright, a mentor, a counselor, a tutor, and a companion for inmates who are suicidal. She hasn't committed a single disciplinary infraction in two decades in prison.
Johnson's case began around 1990. She started getting addicted to gambling, then she lost her job while she was trying to raise five children. Then she was faced with divorce, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and the death of her youngest son. She turned to drug dealing and money laundering.
She said that her role in the conspiracy was a telephone mule. She passed along messages by phone so the people who were selling and distributing the cocaine weren't contacting one another directly. She said that she never touched or sold the drugs.
When the conspiracy ring was rounded up by authorities, the prosecutors named Johnson as one of the leaders. Even though Johnson believed herself to be a low ranking member of the scheme.
She was previously denied clemency during the Obama presidency in 2017, and they never said why.
Comments from Allen:
Presidents have the absolute power to pardon anyone convicted of a federal crime. The courts have no such power. When a federal prisoner exhausts potential avenues of relief in the courts, the power of the presidential pardon remains possible.
Many involved in high-level drug trade are also involved in gun crimes and various crimes of violence, hence, those convicted get “special” treatment.
Alice does not fit in this class.
Prosecutions are all about shutting down dealers at the top of the food chain, but frankly, this does not always happen. Plea bargains offered in drug conspiracy cases are like scholarships offered to star high school football players: 200 offers go out, but there are only 20 open spots. The first 20 to accept the deal get the deal offered, the remaining 180 do not. For the accused, it means almost everybody gets offered s deal, but once the prosecutor has made deals with enough conspirators, the deals stop and those remaining (who may have refused to deal out of fear of death) get prosecuted to the full extent of the law. They may be treated like kingpins and face life in prison.
I do not know whether Alice deserved her sentence and the kingpin treatment, but there are other factors at work which I believe favor her release now.
First, her age. As a judge once told one drug kingpin, “federal prisons were not created to be ‘Old Folks’ homes.’” Once a person has served substantial time and is really too old and too unconnected with the drug world to be a threat, society has no reason to lock them up.
Second, she has given solid evidence she has changed her life. If she is pardoned, she gives other prisoners reason to change their lives.
Combined with having actually served over 20 years, thus paying a substantial debt to society, there appear to be very good reasons to let Alice go now, whether she was once a kingpin or a mule.
I hope Trump pardons her. It is the right thing to do.
Allen Browning is an attorney in Idaho Falls, Idaho who handles personal injury and criminal defense. He has over 30 years of experience and handled thousands of cases. Allen handles cases from all over Idaho. Call (208) 542-2700 to set up a free consultation if you are facing legal trouble or you have been involved in an accident.
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