Biden shortens ‘disproportionately long’ drug sentences for convicted Florida men

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President Joe Biden on Friday announced he has shortened the sentence of three men prosecuted in Florida’s Northern District for nonviolent drug crimes.

The three men were part of a group of 11 individuals serving what the White House called “disproportionately long” sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. All three of the men are Black. Two of the men, Leroy Lymons and Earlie Deacon Barber, were serving life sentences for their drug crimes.

Barber, who is from Alabama but was prosecuted in Florida, was convicted for distribution of cocaine and given a life sentence in 2009. With the commutation, he will be released on April 20, 2024, but will still have to maintain his 10-year-long supervised release. He is 49.

Lymons, 45, who is from Pensacola, was convicted of distributing cocaine in 2012. Federal prosecutors said Lymons, in tandem with others from Florida and Texas, was a “supervisory-level conspirator” in a multi-state drug operation that led to about 80 kilograms of cocaine being distributed over about four months. Biden commuted his life sentence to a length of 27 years, keeping intact the 10-year supervised release term.

Esaias J. Tucker, 35, was convicted in 2013 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. That prison sentence will now expire on April 20, 2024, followed by a 10-year supervised release.

Tucker was convicted for distributing cocaine, including possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more. At the time of his sentencing, Tucker, who is from Tallahassee, was 24. His arrest came out of a multi-agency undercover operation that focused on Tallahassee’s “most violent and active open-air drug market,” according to prosecutors.

In 2020, a Northern Florida District judge denied Tucker a sentence reduction under the First Step Act, a piece of prison reform legislation under President Donald Trump’s administration. In his order, Judge Robert Hinkle said that the First Step Act does not allow Tucker’s sentence to be changed retroactively.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums applauded Biden’s decision and said a president’s clemency powers are among his most important.

“FAMM is thrilled for the eleven people who have had their sentences commuted and will have the opportunity to safely return home to their families and communities sooner,” Mary Price, the organization’s general counsel, said in a statement. “We applaud the president for using his clemency powers to provide compassion and mercy this holiday season.”

In April, during a different round of executive clemencies, Biden commuted the sentence of a Florida woman serving a prison sentence for distribution of methamphetamine and a Florida man, prosecuted in Texas, serving a sentence for possession with intent to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana. Last year, Biden granted a full pardon to a St. Augustine man who pleaded guilty to renting and making a place available for the use of growing marijuana plants.

The White House on Friday also said Biden is making eligible for pardons thousands of people who were convicted of use and simple possession of marijuana on federal lands and in the District of Columbia.

The categorical pardon Friday builds on a similar round issued just before the 2022 midterm elections that made thousands convicted of simple possession on federal lands eligible for pardons. Friday’s action adds additional criminal offenses to those eligible for a pardon.

Biden, in a statement, said his actions would help make the “promise of equal justice a reality.”

“Criminal records for marijuana use and possession have imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities,” Biden said. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs.”

No one was freed from prison under last year’s action, but the pardons were meant to help thousands overcome obstacles to renting a home or finding a job. Similarly, no federal prisoners are eligible for release as a result of Friday’s action.

Biden’s order applies only to marijuana, which has been decriminalized or legalized in many states for some or all uses, but remains a controlled substance under federal law. U.S. regulators are studying reclassifying the drug from the category of drugs deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” known as “Schedule I,” to the less tightly regulated “Schedule III.”

The pardon also does not apply to those in the U.S. unlawfully at the time of their offense.

Those eligible can submit applications to the Justice Department’s pardon attorney office, which issues certificates of pardon.

Biden on Friday reiterated his call on governors and local leaders to take similar steps to erase marijuana convictions.

“Just as no one should be in a federal prison solely due to the use or possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” Biden said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.