William Ricardo Alvarez of Marietta was pardoned along with 12 others convicted of mostly drug-related crimes. Another eight were granted commutations, which is a shortening of a sentence.
Alvarez was convicted in Puerto Rico of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin and conspiracy to import heroin. He served nine months in federal prison, followed by four years of supervised release starting in 1997.
The pardon clears his name and wipes his record clean.
Most of those who were given commutations or pardons were convicted on charges related to crack cocaine and sentenced under harsh “mandatory minimum” sentences that have since been done away with.
Many were sentenced to life in prison.
Alvarez is one of two convicted of a heroin-related charge pardoned by the president Thursday.
DA: Mandatory minimums pose problems
Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds said, in most cases, mandatory minimums tie the hands of the justice system.
“The judge had very little discretion, and I think the primary argument over the years, even from judges, is the essence of being a judge is discretion,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said Georgia’s state courts have mandatory minimums for offenses “they ought to be” on, such as violent crimes, but there has been a large protest against the federal courts’ mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
“As a general rule, I would be against mandatory minimums in nonviolent drug or property crimes. I think that mandatory minimums do have a place when you’re talking about a violent crime, a sex-offense crime, or a crime with a child or elderly victim,” Reynolds said.
State Rep. Ed Lindsey (R-Buckhead) didn’t want to speak specifically to Alvarez’s case but pointed to his co-sponsorship of a criminal justice reform bill in Georgia.
The United States has the world’s largest prison population.
Lindsey said he encourages alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders.
“The central basis of it is we want to be able to distinguish between those folks that we are afraid of versus the people that we are merely mad at,” Lindsey said.
But for violent offenders who pose a threat to the public there should be “always a jail cell waiting,” Lindsey said.
Former Congressman Bob Barr of Smyrna declined to comment. A spokesman said Barr is not familiar with the specifics of Alvarez’s case.
Barr is running against Lindsey, former state Sen. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), and Tricia Pridemore of Marietta, who resigned as executive director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development to campaign for the seat, which is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey.
Pridemore said she believes “wholeheartedly” in the fairness of the American judicial system.
“That said, my opinion isn’t nearly as important as the opinions of law enforcement officials who work tirelessly every day to keep our communities safe, the judges who hear these cases, and the juries who fulfill their civic duty in deciding the outcomes,” Pridemore said. “The real question is whether they believe that President Obama and (U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder have circumvented the judicial process in issuing these pardons.”
Loudermilk could not be reached for comment by press time.