Three days before leaving office, President Barack Obama issued 273 commutations and 64 pardons to federal criminals. Two days later, he issued another 330 commutations. He provided clemency relief (commutations shorten a sentence; pardons forgive a crime) to 1,927 people while in office (212 of which were pardons).

Fourteen individuals receiving the President’s mercy were convicted in federal courts in Mississippi (3 pardons; 11 commutations).

In Mississippi, the pardons went to Jimmy Wayne Pharr, convicted of marijuana distribution related crimes; Tietti Onette Chandler (aka Tietti Chandler-Shelton), convicted of embezzlement of mail by a postal employee; and Bobby Joseph Guidry (aka Bob Guidry) for conspiracy to import, possess and distribute marijuana.  All three had completed their prison sentences as well as probation or supervised release.

The Mississippi commutations were all drug related as well, mostly cocaine distribution. The combined mercy toward eight of those convictions accounts for 102 less years in prison.  The other three were each serving life sentences and had served thirty-three years combined. Now those three have an average of thirteen years left to serve.

In his eight years in office, President Obama issued more clemency grants than any president since Harry S. Truman (not counting broad clemency for Vietnam era draft dodgers issued by Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter). He reduced 568 life time sentences, many of which had the person been convicted of the same crime today they would receive lesser penalties.

Neil Eggleston, who served as Counsel to the President for Obama, wrote on the White House blog, “[These] individuals learned that our nation is a forgiving nation, where hard work and a commitment to rehabilitation can lead to a second chance, and where wrongs from the past will not deprive an individual of the opportunity to move forward... [W]e must remember that clemency is an extraordinary remedy, granted only after the President has concluded that a particular individual has demonstrated a readiness to make use of his or her second chance.”

While Obama’s sheer numbers exceed recent presidents, his percentage of clemency granted to applications received was not as exceptional. He posted a 5 percent rate; compared to other recent presidents: George W. Bush 2 percent; Bill Clinton 6 percent; George H.W. Bush 5 percent; Ronald Reagan 12 percent; Jimmy Carter 22 percent; Gerald Ford 27 percent and Richard Nixon 36 percent. The differential is a result of Obama’s directive to the Department of Justice to encourage clemency petitions to shorten prison terms of nonviolent drug related crimes.

Obama also spared two federal death sentences. Maurice Chammah writing for The Marshall Project noted it was “the first time a president has spared someone from execution since 2001. Abelardo Ortiz, a Colombian national convicted in 2000 of a drug trafficking murder, and Dwight Loving, convicted in military court in 1989 of killing two cab drivers in Texas, will now serve life sentences.”

Obama pardoned Retired Marine General James Edward Cartwright who was convicted of making false statements to federal investigators who suspected him of leaking classified information about a U.S.-Israel computer virus attack on Iranian nuclear centrifuges. The New York Times described Cartwright as “a key member of Mr. Obama’s national security team” and “the president’s favorite general.”

President Obama commuted the court martial of Chelsea Elizabeth Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) for providing WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of classified or sensitive military and diplomatic documents. Manning’s sentence was reduced from 35 years to 4 years.

Obama also commuted the prison term of Oscar Lopez (aka Oscar Lopez-Rivera) convicted in 1981 and 1988 of seditious conspiracy including carrying firearms during the commission of violent crimes, conspiracy to transport explosives with the intent to kill and injure people, and conspiracy to destroy government buildings (among other counts). His sentence was trimmed by 19 years and he will be released this spring.

Republicans were outraged at Obama’s clemency.

“Going out the door with probably what is an inordinate number of pardons in comparison to the past 30 years even is something that he would have to answer,” said one Republican legislator. “I know that people will say that lame duck pardons are a political tradition but this is one tradition that needs to go away.”

Another legislator said, “I have never in my years of being in public service seen any president release such a mass number of inmates, but I think it’s a disservice to the justice system that we have established...I think it shows the public continuing attacks by Democrats on our criminal justice system.”

Actually, those weren’t Republicans. That was then Democrat Representative Bobby Moak (now Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman) and Democrat Representative Earle Banks commenting on Governor Haley Barbour’s clemency actions in 2012. (I swapped “president” for “governor” and “Democrats” for “Republicans” in the quote from Banks.)

Extending mercy is a nonpartisan value; criticizing mercy is a bipartisan sport.

Brian Perry is a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.