Thursday afternoon The White House announced that President Obama granted clemency to 21 individuals, including a Pensacola woman serving a life sentence.
In 1997, Stephanie Yvette George went to trial in Pensacola on a relatively minor drug charge. But...it was her third offense, so when she was convicted she was sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence: life in prison. Now, 16 years later, Stephanie received word that she will soon be released from prison.
Thomas C (Tim) Means, a partner in the firm Crowell and Moring in Washington, DC took on Stephanie's case pro bono a couple of years ago and was able to call her Thursday afternoon at the Federal Prison in Tallahassee and tell her the news. President Obama commuted her sentence. She will be released from prison on April 17. In all the president commuted the sentences of eight people and granted pardons to 13 others. Means said the odds against Stephanie were long. There are currently more than 8,000 cases requesting some form of clemency.
Stephanie was a single, teenaged mother who managed to graduate high school and become certified as a hairdresser. But she became romantically involved with men who dealt drugs and who sometimes helped support her family. In 1993 she was first sentenced to probation and then spent 9 months in Escambia County jail with work release for a pair of minor drug charges. When she was released she continued her involvement with a dealer who was also the father of her second child. Police arrested the pair along with other co conspirators. Drugs and money were found in the Stephanie's home. At her sentencing, Judge Roger Vinson said he wished he could give Stephanie a lighter sentence, but his hands were tied.
Mandatory minimums, the so called three strikes you're out laws, have come under attack in recent years because of cases like Stephanie's. Tim Means says that while they may have been well intentioned, the laws have had unintended consequences.
When she is released from prison Stephanie George will be under 10 years supervised release. Among the other prisoners receiving good news Thursday were Clarence Aaron of Mobile Alabama who also had his sentence commuted. Charlie Lee Daniels of Wetumpka, Alabama and Martin Alan Hatcher of Foley, Alabama each received presidential pardons. Of the 21 people given some form of clemency this week, 14 were convicted of drug charges.