Cassell issues statement on early prison release of Joe Alvarado

President Barack Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences of 214 federal inmates, setting a new record for the largest single-day grant of commutations in U.S. history.

The move sets Obama apart as the president who has most used his constitutional clemency power to shorten the sentences of more federal inmates than any president in history since Calvin Coolidge.

Many of the 214 prisoners granted early release were convicted of low-level drug offenses. The subject of long mandatory minimum sentences is currently hotly debated in the public policy sphere, with University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Paul Cassell among the voices who have called for change.

Cassell, a former federal judge, on Wednesday issued a statement about the commutations, which included the case of Joe Alvarado — who received a lengthy sentence from Cassell in 2004 when Cassell was on the bench. Paul_Cassell_e1davh

Cassell wrote to Obama in February on behalf of Alvarado, asking for clemency for the man. (He also wrote on behalf of inmate Weldon Angelos. For more on that story, click here).


“I was pleased to see that today President Obama commuted Joe Alvarado’s sentence.  Unfortunately, back in 2004, when I was serving as a federal judge, I was required to impose a mandatory life sentence on Mr. Alvarado for his drug dealing crime, because he was a repeat offender.  To be sure, repeat drug offenses involving methamphetamine deserves tough punishment.  But a mandatory life sentence was not the right sentence for that crime, and would have cost the taxpayers an extraordinary amount of money if Mr. Alvarado had been incarcerated in federal prison until he died.  As a wrote to the President in February, I would have sentenced Mr. Alvarado to no more than 151 months in prison if I had discretion to impose the sentence that I thought was proper.  The President’s commutation means that Mr. Alvarado will serve even more than that — still a very tough sentence that is longer than most criminals who commit crimes of violence will ever serve.

 It is important to understand that sentences like Mr. Alvarado’s are an anomaly in the federal system.  But these anomalous sentences, most often due to several mandatory minimum sentencing provisions, need to be corrected.  President Obama’s commutation of Mr. Alvarado’s sentence is one step in that direction.  Mr. Alvarado is now 62 years old and meets all the criteria that the President laid out for strong candidates for possible commutations.”