WASHINGTON WATCH: Will Clarence Aaron Finally Receive Justice? (VIDEO) | Roland Martin Reports

WASHINGTON WATCH: Will Clarence Aaron Finally Receive Justice? (VIDEO)

We have reported in the past on the devastation that the War on Drugs has had on the black community. Every once in a while, a story comes along that highlights the rank injustice that we know goes on in our criminal justice system. The story of Clarence Aaron is one of them.

At 24, Clarence Aaron was sentenced to three life terms for his role in a cocaine deal, even though it was his first criminal offense, and he was not the buyer, seller or supplier of the drugs. Of all those convicted in the case, Aaron received the stiffest sentence. The Judge’s hands were tied because of federal mandatory sentencing rules. In the federal prison system, there is no parole, so a presidential pardon or commutation of a sentence is the only way an injustice like this one can be fixed.

The prosecutor’s office in this case and the sentencing judge supported an immediate commutation for Aaron, but the man in charge of pardons and commutations in the George W. Bush White House never knew the full extent of their views, and Aaron’s application for commutation was denied.

Margaret Love, Clarence Aaron’s attorney joined Roland Martin on the set of Washington Watch to discuss the case.

MR. MARTIN:   Welcome back.

We have reported in the past on the devastation that the War on Drugs has had on the black community.  Every once in a while, a story comes along that highlights the rank injustice that we know goes on in our criminal justice system.  The story of Clarence Aaron is one of them.

At 24, Clarence Aaron was sentenced to three life terms for his role in a cocaine deal, even though it was his first criminal offense, and he was not the buyer, seller or supplier of the drugs.  Of all those convicted in the case, Aaron received the stiffest sentence.  The Judge’s hands were tied because of federal mandatory sentencing rules.  In the federal prison system, there is no parole, so a presidential pardon or commutation of a sentence is the only way an injustice like this one can be fixed.

The prosecutor’s office in this case and the sentencing judge supported an immediate commutation for Aaron, but the man in charge of pardons and commutations  in the George W. Bush White House never knew the full extent of their views, and Aaron’s application for commutation was denied.

So, what happened?

Here to talk about that is Aaron’s attorney Margaret Love.

Margaret, welcome to the show.

MS. MARGARET LOVE:  Thank you very much.

MR. MARTIN:  So, how does this work?  Because, in fact, you were the person in the Department of Justice who reviewed and made the recommendations – correct?  So explain –

MS. LOVE:  Back in the last –

MR. MARTIN:  — process.

MS. LOVE:  — yes.  Back in the 1990s, I was the person – the pardon attorney – that is in charge of the program where all applications to the President come to the Justice Department.  And they’re investigated and reviewed, and a recommendation is drafted for the President.

MR. MARTIN:  So, tell our viewers exactly what happened with the injustice here.

MS. LOVE:  The injustice really is that the views of the United States Attorney, which are always regarded as tremendously important in these cases, which were surprisingly favorable to my client, were never communicated to the White House.  And, in fact, the views that were communicated were very misleading.  The person in charge of the Pardon Attorney’s Office was mainly responsible for the misleading advice.

MR. MARTIN:  So, Clarence received three life terms, but what was his role in this whole deal?  I mean what –

MS. LOVE:  It was pretty small.  It was a pretty small role.  His problem is that he went to trial, and in the federal system, if you go to trial rather than pleading guilty, if there are a lot of drugs involved, generally – if other people had them, [it] doesn’t really matter – you get charged with all the drugs.

MR. MARTIN:  I mean what was his role –

MS. LOVE:  Well, he –

MR. MARTIN:  — in this whole deal?

MS. LOVE:  — had a bit of a role.  There’s no question about that.  These are bad choices that Clarence made, and I think that he would be the first – well, I know he would be the first to admit it.  He made some bad choices.  He had never been involved in the criminal justice system before.  This is an unusual case in that respect.  He had been a college student.  Nobody really is arguing that he’s not guilty.  He –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. LOVE:  — was guilty, and he deserved to, you know, do some time.

[A] life sentence is far too long, however.  There were no guns, no violence.  He did not have a management role.  So … the problem with this sentence is the length of it, and he has done 20 years in prison.

MR. MARTIN:  Because of these stories by “ProPublica,” the President ordered a review of the pardon process with the particular individual in this case.  What has happened to this pardon attorney?  What is happening with that office?

MS. LOVE:  Well, that’s the interesting thing.  The Inspector General issued a pretty strong report – in fact, I was surprised how strong it was – describing how badly handled in the Justice Department Clarence Aaron’s case was.  As far as I know, there’s been no action taken against the pardon attorney, and I understand that he’s back at work, if he ever left work.  And so everything is kind of business as usual in the Justice Department.

I don’t know what the White House is thinking about all of this.  I had rather hoped there might be some action on the case before Christmas, but no action right now, and that’s tough for the family.  He has a really nice family, and he is a very nice man, actually.  And his community is very much behind him.

MR. MARTIN:  A President of the United States has at his discretion to pardon anyone – [unintelligible] – anyone he wants to.  This president has pardoned the fewest individuals in a long, long time.

Do you believe that, come January 1st – come the first of the year – that Clarence Aaron’s application will get on the President’s desk, and he is going to actually pardon him or commute his sentence?

MS. LOVE:  I am very hopeful.  I am very hopeful that this president will take an interest in the pardon program, not just for my client – although I certainly hope for me – but for the many others that are similarly situated.  There’s a lot to be done, and I hope the President, in his second term, will decide that he wants to do it.

MR. MARTIN:  Okay.  We certainly appreciate it.  Thanks a bunch, and we’ll –

MS. LOVE:  Thank you.

MR. MARTIN:  — stay in touch.

MS. LOVE:  It was a pleasure.  Thank you.

  • What happened to your Facebook profile, Roland? I use Facebook more than I use Twitter — a LOT more. I miss your comments on Facebook.

    • Nevermind, I saw your FB link on this page, followed it and found your profile that I still had “liked.” I had to tell it to send me notifications since FB changed and that was why I wasn’t seeing your shares. Thanks. I was wondering!