The nation’s first Black Secret Service agent on a presidential detail, now 86 and living in Chicago, has spent decades trying to clear his name for a crime he claims he did not commit.
A 51-year-old Houston woman was sentenced to seven years in prison for attempting to transport drugs for her boyfriend and accomplice, who were not charged.
And a 52-year-old man from Athens, Georgia, who works with schools to hire students at his cellphone repair business, two decades after he was charged with allowing drug dealers to sell drugs at his pool hall. President Joe Biden is pardoning three convicted felons – Abraham Bolden Sr., Betty Jo Bogans, and Dexter Eugene Jackson – as well as 75 others whose sentences he is commuting on Tuesday, in the first use of clemency power in the Biden presidency.
All of Biden’s commutations are for people serving low-level drug-related sentences, including some who were held in home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many are Black or brown, and the White House claims that they have all made efforts to improve their lives.
Biden will also announce new actions aimed at improving outcomes for felons who reenter society as part of a broader strategy to reform the criminal justice system as part of the clemency announcements, which coincide with national “Second Chance Month.” $145 million has been set aside for a federal program to train the incarcerated for future employment, as well as the removal of criminal records from grant applications from the Small Business Administration.
In a statement, Biden said, “America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation.” “Our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities, according to elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders. During Second Chance Month, I’m exercising my constitutional authority to uphold those values by pardoning and commuting the sentences of fellow citizens.”
The president has the power to grant clemency to forgive convictions under the Constitution. A pardon is a complete legal forgiveness of a crime, removing any remaining prison sentence, probation conditions, or unpaid fines, as well as any collateral consequences, allowing felons to vote, hold professional licenses, run for public office, and own a gun.
A commutation is a narrower form of mercy that allows a person to serve less time in prison while keeping their conviction. Many of Biden’s commutations keep home confinement or supervised release provisions in place.
According to senior Biden administration officials who briefed reporters on the announcement, the individuals granted clemency were recommended by the Department of Justice’s pardon attorney. It’s a return of a practice that former President Donald Trump, whose clemency requests were often routed through close aides, largely ignored.
The three people who have been pardoned have “demonstrated their commitment to rehabilitation and are striving every day to give back and contribute to their communities,” according to Biden.
Bolden, a former Secret Service agent appointed by former President John F. Kennedy, received the highest-profile pardon. Bolden was charged in 1964 with attempting to sell a copy of a United States Service file. Bolden was found guilty despite the fact that some of the witnesses who testified against him admitted to lying at the prosecutor’s request.
Bolden has claimed that exposing unprofessional and racist behavior within the Secret Service resulted in retaliation.
According to senior Biden administration officials, nearly one-third of the 75 commutation recipients would have received lighter sentences if charged today under the Trump-era criminal justice law, the First Step Act. According to a White House official, they have served an average of ten years in prison and have “shown resilience” in seeking a productive path forward.
After legislative efforts failed, Biden is under pressure from criminal justice advocates to use executive power to address police accountability. The president’s police accountability efforts, according to a White House official, are unaffected by Tuesday’s announcements.