(CNN) — A cousin of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was one of eight people whose long prison sentences for cocaine offenses were commuted on Thursday by President Barack Obama.
Reynolds Allen Wintersmith, said to be a first cousin of Patrick, was convicted in 1994 for possession and intent to distribute cocaine, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Patrick, a friend and close political ally of the President, has “no recollection” of meeting Wintersmith, noting a difference in their ages, according to a source in the Governor’s office.
Patrick’s office said the Massachusetts Democrat was not involved in any application for a commutation of Wintersmith’s sentence and learned of it through media reports.
The White House said Patrick didn’t request anything of the administration and that the family ties didn’t impact the decision.
Obama, who has sparingly used his pardon and commutation powers, provided relief to people convicted of crack cocaine offenses under laws calling for strict mandatory sentences.
The eight offenders have each served more than 15 years in prison, which the White House said amounted to “unduly harsh sentences issued under an outdated sentencing regime.”
If convicted under current sentencing laws, those people would be given lighter sentences, the White House added.
Obama has decried the disparity between mandatory punishments for crack cocaine use versus the powdered form of the drug. In 2010, he signed the Fair Sentencing Act in a bid to bring the penalties closer together.
“Commuting the sentences of these eight Americans is an important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness,” Obama said in a statement.
Wintersmith appealed his case to the Supreme Court, which upheld the sentence in 1998.
He and four other defendants questioned the formula used by the judge to determine prison time after concluding the illegal conduct involved distributing both crack and powdered cocaine.
The defendants said the judge wrongly assumed crack was involved when that was not clear in the original charges.
But the court sided with the government.
The Supreme Court has struggled for years in these kinds of cases, in trying to determine whether the sentencing guidelines imposed by Congress for crack cocaine — producing longer prison terms than for powder cocaine offenses — were unfair.