America is known as a nation of second chances. President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight Iran's president warns US will pay 'high cost' if Trump ditches nuclear deal MORE has repeatedly claimed that it is for those who have committed a crime and were convicted. Indeed, during his two terms, President Obama has commuted the sentences of more inmates than any other president in recent history. We in Puerto Rico applaud and praise President Obama’s actions and consider them evidence of looking at the criminal justice system from a human rights perspective. But the people of Puerto Rico have not seen the White House and the U.S. Department of Justice act with the same sense of justice and fairness with respect to Oscar López-Rivera, who has been in prison for 35 years for a crime that does not involve murder or bodily injury.

Mr. López-Rivera, 73, was convicted in 1981 for seditious conspiracy and other related offenses. He was sentenced to 55 years – 660 months – in prison. Statistics from the U.S. Sentencing Commission show that from 2006-2015, the average sentence for murder offenses have fluctuated between 221 and 287 months. The year 2015 had the longest sentencing, with an average of 287 months and a median of 300 months. Compared to Mr. López-Rivera’s sentence of 660 months of prison for a crime that does not involve a murder, these statistics show that at least half of the people convicted in 2015 for murder were sentenced to less than half of Mr. López-Rivera’s sentence.

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Considering the nature of his offense as opposed to those who have taken the life of a person, Mr. López-Rivera’s sentence is completely disproportionate, excessive, and repulsive to any notion of fairness, justice, and human rights. As a matter of fact, in 1999 President Bill ClintonBill ClintonGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Lawmakers, pick up the ball on health care and reform Medicaid The art of the small deal MORE recognized that this sentence – and other sentences he commuted from a group of Puerto Rican prisoners convicted for similar offenses – was unjustly lengthy and disproportionate.

Because we still believe in the American justice system, the release of Oscar López-Rivera is a cause that unifies all Puerto Ricans, regardless of where they now reside. In response to this clamor, in 2013 the Governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro García-Padilla, requested President Obama and the former U.S. Attorney General, Eric HolderEric H. HolderJuan Williams: Momentum builds against gerrymandering GOP worries as state Dems outperform in special elections House votes to curb asset seizures MORE, to commute Mr. López-Rivera’s sentence. More recently, as Puerto Rico’s Attorney General, I presented a similar request to the White House Counsel, W. Neil Eggleston, and the U.S. Attorney General, Loretta E. Lynch. Despite all these efforts and public outcry, Mr. López-Rivera’s petition for presidential pardon is still pending at the U.S. Department of Justice – as it has been since 2010. As pointed out by the New York Times Editorial Board as recent as last Aug. 6, 2016, it seems that “Mercy is Far Too Slow at the Justice Department” about inmates serving unfair sentences.

I encourage President Obama to exercise his constitutional pardoning power and grant clemency to Oscar López-Rivera. The executive pardon is an unrestricted power and is exercised to “help ensure that justice is tempered by mercy.” Releasing Mr. López-Rivera is not only just and the moral action to take in response to a lengthy and disproportionate sentence, but also consistent with President Obama’s conviction that “America is a nation of second chances.” Mr. López-Rivera’s advancing age, combined with his good conduct in prison, warrant the exercise of executive pardon now and provide him a second chance to return to his homeland and loved ones. It is time to free Oscar López Rivera; 35 years (420 months) in prison are more than enough.

César R. Miranda is the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.