President Obama Commutes Sentence of Firm Pro Bono Client

August 30, 2016

Patterson Belknap pro bono client Mancer L. Barrington, III has been granted executive clemency today by President Barack Obama.  Mr. Barrington is thirty-eight years old and was serving a mandatory life sentence for nonviolent offenses involving the distribution of controlled substances.  President Obama commuted Mr. Barrington’s sentence to 180 months, most of which time has already been served.  Mr. Barrington’s commutation is among 111 given today to “individuals who received unduly harsh sentences under outdated laws for committing largely nonviolent drug crimes,” according to a White House blog post by White House counsel Neil Eggleston. 

Mr. Barrington was arrested in 2007.  His statutorily-mandated term of life arose from his conviction of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams of cocaine base and the government’s decision to file two sentence enhancements pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 851 on the morning of trial.  At Mr. Barrington’s sentencing hearing, the Honorable Raymond A. Jackson condemned the sentence that the Court was obligated by statute to impose and expressed his belief that a lesser sentence was appropriate in his case:

To file an enhancement in this case, to seek life in this case, was too much, over the top and unnecessary.  Therefore the Court has no option but to impose a sentence that the Court finds inappropriate. . . [T]he co-defendant[] in this case . . . got five years, and now here the Court is called upon to give Mr. Barrington life.  That is ridiculous.  That is a ridiculous result in this case.

In 2013, Patterson Belknap began representing Mr. Barrington after receiving a referral from the Mercy Project at New York University.  At the time the Firm accepted the case, Mr. Barrington had exhausted all direct appeals and all opportunities for collateral relief. 

In 2015, Susan Millenky, Helen P. O’Reilly and Daniel S. Ruzumna drafted a petition for commutation of Mr. Barrington’s sentence.  The petition included letters from twenty-one friends and family, including Mr. Barrington’s four children who ranged in age from nine to seventeen-years-old.  The Petition also explained that, due to changes in the federal sentencing laws and policies with respect to § 851 enhancements, Mr. Barrington would receive a drastically lower sentence if convicted today.  The Fair Sentencing Act altered the mandatory minimum penalties applicable to offenses involving 50 grams of crack cocaine, the amount involved in Mr. Barrington’s offense.  Beyond the important changes of the Fair Sentencing Act, Mr. Barrington also would face a significantly lower sentence today because current Department of Justice policy does not support the filing of 21 U.S.C. § 851 prior felony informations in this case.

The Patterson Belknap team has worked relentlessly to secure the commutation.  These efforts included working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office; securing a letter of support from his sentencing judge, the Honorable Raymond A. Jackson; securing a letter of support from Clemency Project 2014; and helping Mr. Barrington to publish a November 2015 op-ed in the Huffington Post entitled, A Plea From Behind the Walls: Please Limit Mandatory Minimums.

“You have given me my life back,” Mr. Barrington said when the Firm delivered the news to him at his facility in Big Sandy Penitentiary.