WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department announced Tuesday that President Bush has issued 15 new pardons and commuted one prison sentence.
All 15 pardons were for men who were convicted of non-violent and mostly minor offenses, some dating back decades. Among the convictions were drug possession and distribution, illegal firearms dealing, false housing statements and wildlife infractions.
The single commutation announced Tuesday was for a Portsmouth, Va., woman convicted of attempted drug distribution. Patricia Beckford was sentenced in 1992 to 23 years in federal prison for conspiracy and attempt to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine. Following the president's order, however, Beckford will get out early. Her release is now set for July 24, 2008.
A five-year term of supervised release for Beckford will stand, officials said. While a pardon lifts many of the non-prison-related sanctions of a conviction -- which can include the right to vote if a state does not have a specific rule preventing it from being lifted -- a commutation only provides for early prison release. Beckford also was fined $10,000.
Getting a presidential pardon doesn't necessarily require a $1,000 an hour lawyer and a tight friendship with the White House. One pardon recipient said he learned Tuesday morning he had been pardoned for a conviction he received in the 1990s.
The man pardoned -- who didn't want to be identified by name because he believed his public image would be damaged by discussing the case -- said he didn't have a high-priced lawyer, or any lawyer for that matter. He simply submitted paperwork to the Justice Department about four years ago, and waited and waited.
Finally, he got the call on Tuesday.
"I feel like this is the first time I've been in control of my own future" since the conviction, the pardon recipient told FOXNews.com.
He said he has been rejected from jobs before because of the conviction, to which he always admitted on job applications. He said that one time, he was released on the first day of a job after management changed its mind about his hire.
"I have a good job. I have a well-paying job. But it was one I felt I could never leave. I felt trapped," he said.
He also lost his right to vote and the right to carry a firearm. He said he couldn't care less about the firearm, "but I want my right to vote back."
At the moment, no plans are in the works to celebrate, he said, but he will be researching more about what freedoms the pardon gives him, and took the opportunity to advocate for better education so people can prevent getting into situations like his own.
"Our kids need it. They can't go anywhere without it. ... If they're not given a proper education, and ultimately, they will be a victim of their circumstances for the wrong reasons because they won't have any way out."
A White House spokesman did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment, and the Justice Department Web site says the administration generally does not discuss why executive clemency is or is not granted.
As of Tuesday, Bush has issued 157 pardons and six commutations, including the sentence commutation of former White House adviser I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
The most notable name not on the list was that of major league baseball pitcher Roger Clemens, who is said to be seeking a pardon from possible perjury charges over his congressional testimony he offered earlier this year. He said he didn't use steroids, but other key witnesses said he did.
The president decides who will be pardoned, and takes advice from the U.S. Pardon Attorney, who is housed at the Justice Department. Those interested in seeking pardons submit their applications to the White House and the pardon attorney, who in turn researches and vets the applications, and makes periodic recommendations to the president.
The president also can decide to pardon or commute a sentence for anyone he wishes.
Some of the more notable pardons and commutations have included President Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich, who fled the country after facing tax evasion charges; Bush's commutation of Libby's prison sentence; and President Ford's pardon of President Nixon.
The pardons announced Tuesday were for:
FOX News Ian McCaleb and Greg Simmons contributed to this report.
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