Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Illinois: Quinn Pardons 126

Stupid Ceremony, Part Whatever
While news organizations from PBS to the Times and Post are writing stupid stories about the stupid practice of pardoning turkeys, the Governor of Illinois continues to take the clemency power seriously. Governor Quinn is a lame duck, but he is not engaged in a lurid last-minute dump (See Bill Clinton and Haley Barbour). Quinn has made the regular use of clemency a priority since he came into office and inherited a ridiculous application back load from Rod Blagojevich.

Now, Quinn is reported to have "acted" on 311 cases. He granted clemency in 126 and denied requests in 185. It is also reported that"some" of the cases "date back to crimes committed in the early 1970s."

In total. Quinn has acted on 3,358 clemency petitions since 2009,  and has granted clemency in 1,239 instances.

One of the persons Quinn has pardoned is Robert Taylor, who was convicted as a teenager in the rape and murder of a 14-year-old. He and four others were cleared by DNA evidence. Taylor spent nearly two decades behind bars.

Read more about his case, and others here.

Obama's Clemency Record to Date

Going into a time of year when many recent presidents have chosen to exercise the pardon power, here is the status of President Obama's use of the power to date:

Granted Pardon Applications
Granted Commutation Applications
All Applications
1 in every 2
1 in every 15
1 in every 3
1 in every 3
1 in every 25
1 in every 4
1 in every 3
1 in every 36
1 in every 5
1 in every 5
1 in every 100
1 in every 8
H.W. Bush
1 in every 10
1 in every 245
1 in every 19
1 in every 5
1 in every 90
1 in every 16
W. Bush
1 in every 13
1 in every 779
1 in every 55
1 in every 35
1 in every 1,542
1 in every 278

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Arkansas: Mercy and Nepotism, A Tale of Two Governors

Today, the news is all about Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, who desires that his son be pardoned for an eleven year-old, non-violent drug offense.  The offense was so minor, the punishment was three year's supervision and a fine. See story here.

Governor Beebe has been the topic of many posts at this blog, because he is one of the few governors in the United States that takes the constitutional responsibility to pardon seriously. Beebe has not followed the Haley Barbour / Deval Patrick zero-integrity model of clemency neglect. Beebe has granted pardons steadily throughout his term. no one can accuse him of being ridiculously merciless. Nor can anyone fairly characterize him as unacceptable soft on crime or of setting dangerous criminals loose. Everything about Beebe's behavior suggests integrity and responsibility. It is not very likely at all that a lurid last-minute pardon bonanza is in his future. There is no need for one. He has not neglected his duty in this sphere.

Beebe's pardon of his own son is accompanied by a humble, detailed, articulate, public explanation / justification, which any reasonable person is free to accept or reject. But the point is Beebe respects the office, the power and the citizens of Arkansas enough to make the explanation.

Contrast Beebe with another Arkansas governor who went on to be President of the United States: Bill Clinton. Clinton ignored the pardon power like no other president since John Adams. At the end of the term he smeared the power perhaps as badly as any president in history. As he did it, Clinton pardoned his own brother - a guy whose autobiography barely suggests anything like remorse for his criminal behavior. he Arkansas Parole Board recommended pardon for Beebe's son, but Bill Clinton did not wait for his brother's application to be approved by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, in the Department of Justice. Indeed, Roger Clinton never even filled out an application for pardon! President Clinton offered no public justification whatsoever for this egregious act. The pardon was a straight-up rude, arrogant, in-your-face act of disrespect for the law.

Beebe is no Clinton.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Massachusetts: State Neglect, Editorial Folly

At, Ron Chimelis makes an obvious point, but, a point we have made many times over the years as well: last minute pardons have a tendency to leave a "bad taste." More specifically, Chimelis suggests the "time-honored practice of 11th-hour pardons" is "rarely [well-received] by a public that feels its leaders have completed an end-around from the democratic process." Consequently, "cries of arbitrary, one-man rule are bound to follow." They "feed the cynicism of a soured electorate."

Of course, Chimelis writes his editorial piece in response to Gov. Deval Patrick (about to leave office), who granted a mere four pardons this past week. Deval also granted the first commutation of sentence in his term and the first granted in the State in 17 years (quite an amazing tribute to the near infallibility of the State's criminal justice system and its evident failure to rehabilitate anyone, in or outside of prison).

The Editorial states :
Pardons are enacted for a variety of reasons. Evidence exposing the unjust nature of an original sentencing, or convincing proof that the punished individual has earned a second chance in society are the most common. 
But, incredibly, Chimelis, does not appear in the least bit baffled that the State has not seen any such circumstances during Patrick's tenure. Then the editorial wonders off into the lah-lah land traditionally populated by journalists and commentators:
As often as not, pardons are infamously known as the last actions of many Presidents, in particular, who literally sign the papers as they are cleaning out their desks. The most famous "pardon'' was technically not a pardon at all, but a pre-emptive decision. It was President Gerald Ford's excusing of Richard Nixon for crimes Nixon "might have committed'' while in office. 
In fact, the vast majority of presidential pardons are not "last-minute" in any normal sense of the language and they cause no controversy whatsoever. They do not involve friends, relatives, donors, violent criminals, or any other kind of person that has committed some offense about which a person like Chimelis would bother to write an editorial. President Obama has granted 62 pardons and commutations of sentence. There is a much better than average chance Chimelis could not name 3 recipients among them, Ditto for George W. Bush, who granted 200. As informed persons know, most presidents (as in excepting 2, maybe 3) do not make last-minute pardon dumps and it isn't even true that the population of "most controversial" pardons have tended to fall at the "last-minute." You would have to read the newspapers every day to be so clueless.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, the stench often associated with "last-minute" pardons is not so much a comment on the pardon power as it is a comment on the responsibility and sense of integrity re the persons who wield it. The power is located, constitutionally, at both the federal and state level. It is a responsibility, duty, of executives who are expected to play a serious, legitimate role in our system of separation of powers and checks and balances. That is to say, justice is a three-branch enterprise, not a one branch monopoly.

Inactivity followed by last-minute clemency should simply remind us all of the way things SHOULD be. The pardon power should be administered frequently, regularly, throughout the term. Justice should not be an afterthought. It should be a high-priority and an ongoing concern.

See full editorial here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Massachusetts: Constitutional Duty Discovered

The Boston Globe reports Governor Deval Patrick Monday has approved the request for a commutation of sentence submitted by Deanne Hamilton, convicted of "drug crimes" in 2007. The request must be now be approved by the Governor’s Council. It would be the first sentence commuted in the state in 17 years!

Patrick is also reported to have granted pardons to Jeffrey Snyder, Guy James Coraccio, Thomas K. Schoolcraft, and True See Allah.

See story here.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Arkansas: 25 Pardons

Governor Mike Beebe has announced his intent to grant 25 pardons. It is also reported that 64 clemency requests were denied by the governor.Per usual, the 25 pardons were granted to persons that have "completed all jail time, fulfilled all parole-and-probationary requirements and paid all fines related to their sentences." Among the offenses addressed in the pardons: Possession of Methamphetamine and Drug Paraphernalia, Burglary, Grand Larceny, Theft of Property, Forgery, Possession of Methamphetamine and Drug Paraphernalia, Delivery of Marijuana, Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Deliver, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Theft of Property, Negligent Homicide, Possession of Marijuana, Carrying a Weapon, Battery, Possession of Cocaine with Intent to Deliver, Theft of Services, Theft by Receiving, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Possession of Methamphetamine and Drug Paraphernalia, Possession of Methamphetamine and Drug Paraphernalia, Manufacture of Methamphetamine, Internet Stalking of a Child, Theft by Receiving, Robbery, Possession of Firearms by Certain Persons, Possession of Methamphetamine, Delivery of Cocaine, Possession of Marijuana and Cocaine with Intent to Deliver, Possession of Methamphetamine and Drug Paraphernalia, Battery, Failure to Appear, Possession of Methamphetamine and Drug Paraphernalia, Theft, Burglary, Attempt to Obtain Drugs by Fraud,  Possession of Methamphetamine and Drug Paraphernalia, Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Deliver, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia,  Possession of Methamphetamine. See story here.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Commutations of Sentence: An Historical Perspective

Clemency Project 2014 is a "working group" composed of "lawyers and advocates including the Federal Defenders, the American Civil Liberties Union, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, as well as individuals active within those organizations" launched in January after Deputy Attorney General James Cole asked the legal profession to provide pro bono assistance to federal prisoners who would likely have received a shorter sentenced if they had been sentenced today.

As of this date: 25,426 federal prisoners have submitted applications and 4,864 applications are "currently under attorney review." 

What would 4,864 commutations look like, from an historical perspective? Because the language of clemency grants has changed over time, it is only possible to go back so far in time in data exercises. Furthermore, aggregate data gathered by the Department of Justice are erroneous, because more than one president served in the same fiscal year in the early 1900s. The best data (ours) suggests that the distribution of commutations of sentence, per year of the term, for comparable presidents, looks like this:

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge
Thus, it appears anything much over 300 hundred commutations of sentence would put President Obama in "unprecedented" territory. 5,000 plus commutations of sentence would be off the charts. Literally. That would be something for a president slow to use the pardon power and - to date - one of the least merciful presidents in the history of the United States.

Obama's Monthly Clemency Record

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

Merciless October. Once Again.

October is over! Thank goodness!

Want a pardon or commutation of sentence? In October, you can forget about it.

For six years, Barack Obama has not granted a single pardon or commutation of sentence in the month of October. Over eight years, George W. Bush granted zero in the month of October.

But, there is more.

Bill Clinton granted a total of seven pardons across his eight years in office during the month of October - all seven of them being granted in October of 2000. In his four years as president, George H.W. Bush granted zero pardons and commutations in the month of October.

What does it all mean? It means, across 26 years, four different presidents, both Republican and Democrat have issued a grand total of 7 pardons in the month of October. Since all of them were granted by one president, in a single October, it means 25 of the last 26 Octobers have featured zero pardons and commutations. The odds are better that the Great Pumpkin will appear ... next year!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Missouri: Call for Clemency

The St. Louis Dispatch reports three Missouri women "suffered through years of abuse by their partners" but "went to prison for murder." However, a "newly formed coalition of lawyers, professors and lawmakers" are now calling on Gov. Jay Nixon to commute the sentence of a total of 14 women who are similarly circumstanced.

So far, Nixon has used the pardon power once. Meanwhile, 212 applications have been denied and more than 2,3000 applications are pending.

According to the coalition:
Of the 14 cases chosen, the group said nine women had no direct involvement in the violence for which they were accused, and the others acted under duress and after years of abuse. Five are over age 60; three have served more than 30 years in prison. 
The Dispatch also reports that the five Missouri governors previous to Nixon, "on both sides of the political aisle, collectively granted clemency 160 times." See post here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Maryland: The Times They are a Changin' (Part 24)

Larry Hogan
ABC 7 reports Republican Larry Hogan says "a governor's authority to commute sentences and pardon prisoners is an important power that he would rejuvenate if he is elected governor." Hogan, contrasts himself with Gov. Martin O'Malley who "hasn't made pardons and commutations a priority of his tenure."

Hogan also notes that one can be "a tough law and order candidate" and yet, at the same time, agree with the Founding Fathers of this Nation that "there are people who need the pardon and commutation process." So, Hogan says he will seek help from former Gov. Robert Ehrlich "in using the power more."

The latest nail in the coffin of the Willie Horton Myth. See story here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Massachusetts: Governor Considers Constitutional Duty for First Time

Governor Deval Patrick has been granted the pardon power because his State's Founders envisioned a system of separated powers and checks and balance. Patrick, however, has not granted a single pardon in almost eight years! The State's Parole board once recommended that he grant a pardon. He disagreed. According to the Boston Globe:
[Patrick] considered granting pardons to an entire class of convicts serving time for nonviolent drug offenses but found it was too difficult to pinpoint them since were tangled up in other, more serious legal issues. 
Now, the Governor is said to be "considering three men for pardons, including two with drug convictions in the 1990s and one who was incarcerated after an armed assault in 1989." See story here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Puff the Magic Fundraiser

The Van Wert  (Ohio) Times Bulletin notes "questions" have arisen  over the appearances of musician Peter Yarrow at local schools. More specifically, "concerns" have arisen over Yarrow’s "criminal record" - almost 50 years ago, Yarrow was convicted of "taking immoral liberties with a 14-year-old girl." Yarrow served a sentence for the conviction, but was pardoned by Jimmy Carter. Since then, he has spoken to thousands of school children "all over the world about respect for each other and most recently on anti-bullying."

The programming committee of the Niswonger Performing Arts Center was unaware of Yarrow's arrest.
Yarrow pointed out that he understands why some are questioning his performance. “It’s a sign of the times,” he noted. “I fully understand with (Jerry) Sandusky and with the Catholic Church, but it is shocking to see that this kind of real criminal behavior has been perpetrated against our children. And in my case, I made a mistake in an era in which unfortunately it was very common for us to be surrounded with inappropriate attention from young girls, and I have very frequently expressed not only my real sorrow and apology for having done this because it was absolutely wrong, but I also went to jail for two-and-a-half months and I was given a pardon by President Carter. There’s a certain point in which you say, ‘I have paid my debt to society, I have lived what I hope is a very caring, productive life, I am deeply devoted to making the world a better place in a multitude of ways,' and at a certain point there might be a time when people can say, ‘thank you for doing the work and continue it.’” 
Yarrow made no reference to the role that he played a major Democratic party fundraiser, the last- minute nature of his pardon or the manner in which his application freakishly flew through the federal bureaucracy, skipping line, in front of hundreds of other applicants. See full news story here.

See our own coverage of the Peter Yarrow case (and pardon) here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Costs of Merciless Policies

The Boston Globe notes Massachusetts is one of only 5 states that do not have a compassionate release program. So, a 72 year old prisoner who has spent nearly 50 years in prison (for murder) now "spends most of his time in a hospital bed, immobile, mute, and suffering from end-stage dementia."
"More than 30 other inmates" in the State's system have been diagnosed as "terminally ill or permanently incapacitated" raising the question: "what do you do with an inmate who is so ill he is no longer a danger, but is instead a burden?"

The Globe also reports that. from 2002 to 2011, "the state saw a 63 percent jump in the number of inmates aged 50 or older" and the number of inmates "older than 60 grew by 80 percent." Meanwhile, Massachusetts spends about "$100 million a year in health care for inmates" and State health care spending per inmate increased by 12 percent from 2007 to 2011."

See story here.

Massachusetts: 3 Pardons ... Maybe reports Gov. Deval Patrick is "considering" three men for pardons. In Massachusetts, the Governor's Council votes on pardons and commutations recommendations, but the last time that a governor actually granted a pardon was 2002. Now, there are recommendations for True-See Allah (armed assault with attempt to murder, 1989), Jeffrey Snyder (drug offenses, 1995) and Edem Amet (drug offenses, 1994 and 1995).

It is reported that Gov. Patrick will "definitely" pardon some people "before he leaves office." See story here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

South Dakota: Sensible Reform ! Feds Take Notice !

The Rapid City Journal reports persons "guilty of a misdemeanor or petty offense that didn’t involve violence are now able to clear their record faster and more easily" because of changes made by the state Board of Pardons and Paroles. More specifically, the Board (which has been facing a backlog of cases) has eliminated two steps in the process:
First, it allows certain offenders to bypass the requirements of a pre-screening by two board members, who then make a recommendation to the full board. Second, those offenders may skip a personal appearance before the full board. 
The resulting process generally takes "30 to 60 days" as opposed to "six to eight months." Pat Pardy, a lawyer for the state Department of Corrections, says the purpose of the changes is to allow people to restore their records for employment purposes, such as in financial positions, and for people whose criminal records prevent travel outside the United States, such as to Canada.

We wonder if the federal clemency process could benefit from a similar change in rules and regulations for processing applications. Almost half of the persons pardoned by President Obama, for example, committed crimes so minor that no jail time was served. Yet, on average, it has taken applicants (with and without prison sentences) over four years for applications to be reviewed and granted. Why can't the DOJ created a separate process, perhaps without so many layers of bureaucracy, for minor / non-violent offenses?

See story here.

Arkansas: Board Recommends Clemency reports that the State's Parole Board has unanimously recommended parole be granted to a James Weaver Jr., 44,  who was convicted of capital murder twenty years ago. Weaver's original sentence was "life without parole." The Board recommends that the sentence be commuted to "time already served." A County Prosecuting Attorney and County Sheriff  objected to Weaver’s application for clemency without explanation. See story here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lacking In Mercy

There are certainly many ways to gauge the amount of mercy displayed in an administration. Instead of simply looking at the total number of pardons, commutations of sentence, remissions of fines and forfeitures and respites, we gathered original data and calculated the average number of individual grants of clemency - per year of the term - for each and every president. That is to say, we considered consistency in the use of clemency throughout administrations, as well as the overall figures. This is what we found:

Click on Image (above) to Enlarge

It is clear that, to date, the Obama administration represents a low point, a very low point, in the exercise of this great, necessary, Constitutional power.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Georgia: Clemency in Question

The Gainesville Times reports that the "silence" of the five-member State Board of Pardons and Paroles on the July 10 clemency it granted a death-row inmate "has stirred strong emotions in North Georgia, with ripple effects possibly leading to the doors of the 2015 General Assembly."

 A District Attorney reports that, in the clemency hearing he participated in, board members seemed focused on the fact that an “equally culpable” co-defendant did not get the death penalty.

A spokeswoman for the Governor notes that there is "a healthy distance" between the governor and the State Board of Pardons and Paroles as "the only role the governor plays in this whole process is the ability to appoint board members subject to confirmation by the state Senate."

The Times observes that state’s Open Records Act "exempts documents related to 'the deliberations and voting of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles' and [the] board may close a meeting held for the purpose of receiving information or evidence for or against clemency or in revocation proceedings if it determines that the receipt of such information or evidence in open meeting would present a substantial risk of harm or injury to a witness.”

See full story here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Paul: Pardon 'em all."

Salon summarizes a recent Ron Paul interview (with Jesse Ventura) as follows:
Perhaps the most engaging part of the interview, however, comes when Ventura and Paul turn to the war on drugs, a policy both believe has failed on the merits while ruining millions of lives in the process. One goal of reform, Paul says, is to “not put people in prison for nonviolent crimes — and also we have to think about letting those prisoners out [and] pardoning individuals that have committed these crimes that have been nonviolent.” “Pardon ‘em all,” Paul said. “Let ‘em go.”
See full story here.

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