This week, the semi-sentient sack of rotting half-masticated KFC and fearful hate, Donald Trump, pardoned and commuted the criminal charges of a bunch of trashy white men, including all-stars such as former Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich, Michael “Junk Bond King” Milken, and former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik.
For those who slept through poly-sci, here’s the New York Times to clarify what that means exactly:
The Constitution gives presidents what the Supreme Court has ruled is the unlimited authority to grant pardons, which excuse or forgive a federal crime. A commutation, by contrast, makes a punishment milder without wiping out the underlying conviction. Both are forms of presidential clemency.
At this point in our Donnie Two-Scoops dystopian timeline, it’s not a huge surprise that rich white men who enjoy licking the boots of fascist dictators are being gifted “Get Out of Jail Free'' cards. But among this fresh hell, there was some good news. A few of the people receiving this favor from the führer are actually deserving. And—shocker—these people are the victims of the endless and mercy-free war on drugs, AND are women, AND are people of color. Wait... what?
Meet these two women now, and know that they represent hundreds if not thousands of other men and women rotting in our overcrowded, underfunded, and racist prison system.
The first is Tynice Nichole Hall, whose sentence was commuted. From the New York Times:
Tynice Nichole Hall was sentenced in 2006 after she was convicted on various drug charges in Lubbock, Texas, according to the Justice Department. The evidence at trial showed that Ms. Hall’s residence was used as a stash house for drugs by her boyfriend, who was the main target of an investigation, according to court documents. The police found large quantities of crack and powder cocaine and loaded firearms in her apartment.
Ms. Hall has spent the last 14 years in prison, where she has participated in apprenticeships, completed coursework toward a college degree and led educational programs for other inmates, the White House statement said.
Hall was the subject of a Change.org petition which laid out her case in her own words. In that petition, she wrote:
When I was 19 years old, I made the colossal mistake of being romantically involved with a man who was living a criminal lifestyle by distributing illegal drugs. This iniquitous choice I made not only affected my life, freedom and future, but my family and my community in the most detrimental way possible.
In my naivety, I thought that I could not be held responsible for my boyfriends behavior or actions. I turned a blind eye, although I was not directly in contact with his illegal activities or criminality...I knew that there could be consequences and repercussions for him if he was to ever get caught, but I had no idea that I could be equally punished for having knowledge about his actions.
After three years of my on/off again relationship with this man, federal agents kicked in my door with a search warrant. I was home alone. Two guns were found that belonged to my boyfriend and drugs. The house was in my name; therefore I was held liable for everything in the house and convicted for possessing the drugs and guns in the commission for a crime.
Although my involvement was minimal, conspiracy law held me accountable for all of the illegal conducts, making me equally culpable as my co-defendant, who actually peddled the illegal drugs. I was unable to provide substantial assistance to the United States Attorney due to the fact I had no knowledge of the inner working of his lawless undertakings. I wanted to immediately take a plea deal because I was scared I didn't understand or know what to do. Therefore I went to trial, in hopes that the jury would also agree that my role was far more minimal than his, thus imposing a sentence that was fair and fit the description of the acts I committed. After going to trial, I received the enhancements at the top of the guidelines as if I was the leader/organizer of the operation.
That "conspiracy law" was a factor in the case of the other woman receiving commutation, Crystal Munoz, who in 2008, according to the Times “was found guilty of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.” The details behind her charges and sentencing were well covered by Rolling Stone way back in 2017, which reported:
(The) 38-year-old Navajo mother of two young girls, was sentenced to almost two decades for drawing a map of a road in Big Bend National Park on a piece of notebook paper – a favor, she says, for some friends. These friends would end up using that map to circumvent a drug checkpoint in a large marijuana trafficking operation. Later, they testified against her hoping for more lenient sentences. It’s not clear if they succeeded, but Munoz is nine years into an 18 year sentence for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana.
That’s a lot of pot. But she maintains that any role she might have played in the operation was minimal. “The map was on a piece of notebook paper and with arrows/lines for the road. It was not very sophisticated” she writes from Carswell, a minimum-security women’s prison.
Despite her allegedly small role, she faced a very long sentence. That’s because when a person is charged with conspiracy, all the government has to do to hook a defendant for all the drugs sold is to have witnesses testify against them. The defendant doesn't even have to be caught with drugs.
“That’s where you get the ‘drugless’ drug cases,’ where there’s no drugs in evidence,” Eric Sterling, the former congressional staffer who helped draft mandatory minimums back in the 1980s, says. In theory, this is meant to take down kingpins, who are less likely to get caught with drugs on them than lower-level dealers. But the higher-up someone is in an operation, the more information they can trade for reduced sentences. Meanwhile, mid-level people might not be too eager to testify against the real ringleader, especially if they’re violent. “I wouldn’t want to identify the kingpin because what if he finds out I ratted him out and kills my family?,’ says Sterling. “So I make up a story, or help the government entrap someone.”
At first Munoz had considered pleading guilty, which would have triggered a 10-year mandatory minimum. But her lawyer cautioned that she could also get 30-to-life, and if she pled guilty, she’d lose her right to appeal. So she took her chances at trial and lost.