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President Obama commutes Texas man’s pot sentence

obama picPresident Barack Obama has shortened a Texas man’s prison sentence by three-and-a-half years after attorneys discovered a sentencing error.

Ceasar Cantu of Katy, Texas pled guilty in 2006 to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and money laundering, receiving a 15 year sentence.

Politico reports that a White House official said it was subsequently discovered that a pre-sentence report contained a mistake which caused the extra three-and-a-half years to be added to his sentence.

“A judge ruled that Mr. Cantu did not discover this error in time to correct it through any judicial means; as a result, it can now only be rectified through clemency,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a daily briefing.

“The president thought [this] was the right thing to do to commute his sentence….The president wanted to act as quickly as possible. This is a matter of basic fairness and it reflects the important role of clemency as a failsafe in our judicial system,” Carney added.

Cantu was sentenced in Danville, Va., in 2006 by U.S. District Judge Jackson Kiser, who based his decision on a pre-sentencing report that had an error in “base offense level” that takes into consideration the crime’s severity and the defendant’s criminal history to come up with a sentencing guideline. The report correctly listed Cantu’s level at 34 in one part, but incorrectly listed it at 36 in the portion that calculated a recommended sentence of up to nearly 22 years according to ABC News.

Kiser noted at sentencing that although Cantu didn’t have a criminal record, the quantity of drugs involved in his case deserved a sentence within the recommended guidelines. The judge told Cantu the best he could do was sentence him at the bottom of the guideline.

Cantu said he didn’t discover the mistake until 2012 when he received a copy of the presentencing report, and he accused his lawyer of ineffectively representing him. “By failing to object to this clear error, a manifestly unjust and prejudicial sentence was entered in my case,” Cantu wrote in a motion he personally filed from Louisiana’s Oakdale prison, where he is serving his time.

Kiser rejected Cantu’s motion last year because it wasn’t filed within the one-year statute of limitations. “While I am sympathetic to petitioner’s position, I am not permitted to disregard the law,” Kiser wrote.

Cantu is presently incarcerated in Oakdale, La. and was set to be released in 2018. It was unclear when he will now be released.

It should be noted that President Obama commuted part of the man’s sentence not because it was marijuana related, but due solely to the sentencing error.

Attorney General Eric Holder and his aides have been encouraging the lawyers of prisoners to file commutation requests if they believe their sentences are too lengthy.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a 30 year old journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas and serves as Deputy Director for NORML of Waco. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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