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Drug dealer released by Obama charged with attempted murder


May 21, 2023

Alton Mills’ life sentence was commuted by then-president Barack Obama in 2016 after 20 years behind bars

Convicted crack dealer Alton Mills, who had his life sentence commuted by former US president Barack Obama in 2016, was arrested and charged with three counts of attempted murder on Tuesday, according to Illinois State Police. 

Mills allegedly fired his gun multiple times into a vehicle while driving on an entrance ramp to Interstate 57 in Posen, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, last Sunday, according to the police report. The passenger in the vehicle was hit and reportedly hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. 

Mills was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1994 on federal crack cocaine conspiracy charges, having acted as a street-level courier in a drug deal. Because he had twice been previously convicted of possessing small amounts of crack cocaine, he was subject to the harsh “three strikes” mandatory-minimum sentencing laws typical of the 1990s War on Drugs, even though he had never served time in prison on either previous charge and his judge reportedly disagreed with the draconian sentence he was forced to hand down. 

Along with 94 other non-violent federal prisoners, Mills’ sentence was commuted in 2016 as part of a clemency initiative by Obama. He had spent 22 years in prison, having entered the system aged 23. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, had joined Mills’ sentencing judge Marvin Aspen in petitioning Obama for his release.

One in five prisoners in the US is incarcerated on a non-violent drug offense, and one in three prisoners incarcerated for drugs is held in the federal prison system, according to the NGO Prison Policy Initiative.

While mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession have been significantly reduced since the 1990s and some states have decriminalized marijuana, once responsible for the vast majority of drug arrests, prison reform advocates have called for alternatives to prison for drug crimes to increase the likelihood of rehabilitation. 

While the 2016 study by the Brennan Center for Justice had estimated that as many as 39% of the prison population of the US could be released with little public safety impact, a growing number of politicians have urged caution in reducing criminal penalties, citing spiking crime rates in states like New York and California.