President Obama commutes sentence of convicted New Haven man

In this photo taken Sept. 22, 2016, President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

WASHINGTON (WTNH) — President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentences of 72 people Friday, including a New Haven man who was serving a 20-year sentence.

Court documents say when police arrested William Baldwin, more than 50 grams of cocaine fell out of his pants. William Baldwin was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in April of 2009. Baldwin will be released from prison on November 4, 2018 on the condition he will enroll in a resident drug treatment program.

Anastee Washington says her father knows Baldwin.

“He is a cool guy, he looked out for the older people on the streets and he was a nice person. He gave the kids ice pops and all that, he was a cool person,” said Washington.

It was just about 10 years ago that Baldwin was arrested on the street corner at Edgewood and Norton. Due to the amount of cocaine found on him, he should have only gotten 10 years behind bars, according to the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, but because he had a prior conviction, he got 20 years.

News 8 Legal Consultant Tara Knight says that is why Obama is going back and looking at some of these cases, he says it’s just too much for such a small crime.

“The pendulum has swung. In the 80s, the mandatory minimums were really big because of the prevalence of crack cocaine and crime, but it’s become to be thought that the penalties were too harsh and President Obama is big on reducing what is considered by some very harsh punishments,” said Knight.

Knight says just because Baldwin is given an early get out of jail free card, his sentence was only commuted, cut short. He did not receive a full presidential pardon.

“A pardon is a forgiveness of a crime totally, it actually wipes out the conviction. A commutation is just lowering or reducing the penalty, it doesn’t take away the fact of conviction,” said Knight.

President Obama has commuted more sentences than the past 11 presidents combined.

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