Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Thousands to be Released from Federal Prison

The Washington Post reports that the Justice Department is:
... set to release about 6,000 inmates early from prison — the largest ever one-time release of federal prisoners — in an effort to reduce overcrowding and provide relief to drug offenders who received harsh sentences over the past three decades. 
The early release follow the U.S. Sentencing Commission's unanimous decision to reduce "the potential punishment for future drug offenders. It then made that change "retroactive." The Post also reports that, "eventually," as many as "46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison" could qualify for "early release."

On average, those who will be released with have served 8 1/2 years (instead of 10 1/2) and each inmates "must petition a judge who decides whether to grant the sentencing reduction." The Post notes judged nationwide "are granting about 70 sentence reductions per week." Justice Department officials say "about one-third of the inmates who will be released in a few weeks are foreign citizens who will be quickly deported."
Federal prison costs represent about one-third of the Justice Department’s $27 billion budget. The U.S. population has grown by about a third since 1980, but the federal prison population has increased by about 800 percent and federal prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent over capacity, 
A group of senators has also recently introduced a "criminal justice reform bill" that would "shorten the length of mandatory-minimum drug sentences" and apply the reduction retroactively. See story here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Arkansas: Five Pardons

Arkansas Online reports that Gov. Hutchinson has granted five pardons and one restoration of firearms rights." The Governor also denied 48 clemency requests. Among the convictions addressed were: delivery of a controlled substance (1992), property theft, criminal trespass and breaking or entering (2002 and 2003), possession of a controlled substance (2004), second-degree forgery (1981), third-degree domestic battering (1989), first-degree criminal mischief (1980). See story here

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Times on the Pardon Power, Awkwardly

An editorial in today' New York Times notes that, "between 1885 and 1930, presidents issued more than 10,000 grants of clemency." We have not checked the accuracy of that observation - just yet ... 9,133 seems to be more accurate to us - but, regardless, we remain uncertain as to how the Times sees it as in any way relevant.

The Times does suggest, however, that "in recent decades the practice has fallen into irrelevance ... starting with President Ronald Reagan." Our memory, on the other hand, is that about a half of a century passed between 1930 and the appearance of Ronald Reagan.

It is also our impression that Truman pardoned less than Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson pardoned less than Truman. Nixon pardoned less than Johnson. Carter pardoned less than Nixon. Pointing the other way - Reagan pardoned more than H.W. Bush, W. Bush and Obama. Clinton barely passed Reagan, and only because of his last-minute pardon bonanza.

In sum, someone, while attempting to provide some context, does not have much of a sense of context.

Then the Times notes:
Until recently, President Obama was the least merciful president of modern times. In the past year, he has done more — his totals now stand at 89 sentence commutations and 64 pardons.
In fact, President Obama IS (as in currently, right this second) among the least merciful presidents in history. Only eight others have granted fewer pardons and commutations of sentence, and most of them served a single term, or died before they could complete a single term.

As for "modern presidents," only one has pardoned less, George H.W. Bush. So, if we are looking for a point in recent history where the pardon power fell into "irrelevance," 1988-1992 might be the place to go. In recent weeks, the U.S. pardon attorney in that disastrous administration is finally joining others in calling for the pardon process to be moved out of the Department of Justice. The Times is in agreement. See full editorial here.

New Jersey: Christie Opposes Law, Pardons Offenders reports that Governor Christie "has issued pardons to out-of-state residents charged with violating New Jersey’s strict gun laws" The articles says the Governors "has been facing pressure from gun rights advocates" to grant the pardons. He has now granted five in this category of offenses. The article notes:
 In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Christie called for a ban on .50-caliber assault weapons but later vetoed a Democratic measure to do just that. Earlier this year during a visit to South Carolina, before he officially declared his candidacy, Christie told attendees at an event that he hasn’t signed any new gun laws. Christie has, however, signed several less-controversial gun-related measures, including bills that increased the criminal penalties for gun trafficking and provide a 180-day amnesty period for people to turn in illegal weapons. Christie didn’t make any statements about the pardons, which offered only boilerplate language about the individuals who requested pardons and the fact that the state Parole Board investigated their cases before Christie arrived at his decision. 
See full story here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Will Obama Pardon Hillary? Uh ...

Now begins the flippant speculation that President Obama may pardon Hillary Clinton - which, perhaps, given the tsunami of irresponsible "journalism" and commentary that attended the end of the Bush administration - seems fair enough. Karma is ... can be ... well ... you know.

Candidate Obama was, of course, famously scornful of President Bush's decision to commute the prison sentence of Scooter Libby (Libby was never pardoned). In public speeches, Obama broadly claimed that Mr. Libby "compromised our national security."

Man, that has an awfully familiar smell to it.

Libby, as you may recall, was accused of having revealed the name of an undercover agent - Valerie Plame. In fact, it was someone else (Richard Armitage) who first revealed / leaked the name and the lead prosecutor knew exactly who it was from the beginning of the "investigation." He (the prosecutor) simply went on a fishing expedition to see how high he could go in a chain of gossip. Maybe he could become the new Woodward and Armstrong. Who knows? But, unfortunately, by the time the dog and pony show reached Mr. Libby, there were only Houdini-like exercises in memory stretching re uneventful private conversations, held years in the past, and inevitable contradictions. Armitage, the source of the leak, was never charged, much less prosecuted. Indeed, millions of dollars later, NO ONE was ever charged with leaking anything at all.

So, you see, Hillary's bazillion State Department e-mails, on a non-secure server, classified or not, are not nearly so pertinent. Noooooo. Nothing to see here. Come on people!

Candidate Obama then famously promised, yes promised:
"Here's a promise I'll make. I will not pardon somebody who was part of my administration and who broke the law in part, probably, to cover my backside. That is not something I will do."
Impressive enough ... but for the qualifier "to cover my backside" - which allows for 1) pardoning to cover someone else's backside 2) pardoning to save someone else's backside altogether 3) pardoning someone in the administration who broke the law, then passionately arguing that they did so, but not to cover his backside - Obama certainly being the only president who could ever make such a claim without the press room being filled with smirks, laughter and a hail storm of snarky follow-up questions.

You've got to hand it to lawyers. Very often they are genius about about seeking, finding, dramatizing and selling "distinctions."  And all with a very straight face.

Now comes, a new book by "Clinton watcher" Edward Klein suggesting that, with respect to Hillary Clinton's ongoing email scandal, President Obama is "noncommittal" on the idea of a presidential pardon for his former Secretary of State. And why on this earth should be be otherwise? Think about it. He would very plainly be the most idiotic president in the history of the United States, were he to be "committed" to any position on a matter so ... speculative. Has any president ever "committed" to pardoning someone before they were ever even charged with anything? Why would Obama, one of the least merciful presidents in history, be the first you have ever heard of to do so? See "story" here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

HBO: Obama on VICE

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Oklahoma: Commutations Requests

The Daily Oklahoman has a intriguing story out on three applications for commutation of sentence that Gov. Mary Fallin will be considering. The State's Pardon and Parole Board has recommended that commutations be granted in all three cases. It is also reported that a commutation has not been granted in the State since 2012!

Donnie Daniel is serving life without parole under the state's mandatory three strikes law. He has served 18 years and the Board has unanimously voted to recommend his sentence be reduced to allow him the possibility of parole. Daniel claims he is terminally ill.

William Wood Jr., an army veteran and former minister, is serving a 199 year sentence for drug crime. He has been in prison for 10 years and never been disciplined. The board recommended that his sentence be commuted to 20 years by a vote of 4-1.

Michael Tippin is serving a life sentence for manufacturing methamphetamine and burglary. The Board also recommended that his sentence be reduced by a vote of 4-1.

It reported that the Board has a backlog of 166 applications. 12 were granted a hearing. Eight of them received unanimous no votes. One was Tondalo Hall, a mother of three serving a 30-year sentence "for permitting child abuse, while the abuser was convicted but released at his trial after two years in jail." Hall claims she was beaten by the children's father as well. See full story here.

Massachusetts: Clemency Application Slowdown

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge
The Boston Herald reports that, through last week:
... just 35 people submitted petitions for pardons and another 12 applied for commutations to shorten their sentences. 
The combined 47 applications stands among the fewest in the last decade, though by year’s end could pass the 48 turned in in 2013, and the 49 in 2006, Mitt Romney’s final year in office. 
It is suggest that the election of Democrat Patrick,"a former Department of Justice civil rights attorney" may have "spurred hope for more pardons" So, 131 applications arrived in the first year alone. Patrick then "remade" clemency guidelines twice (in 2014). This sparked "another flood."

Baker (a Republican) "immediately rescinded the guidelines" that Patrick put in place, "saying he intended to release his own." The Herald notes that development is apparently still in progress. An interested party notes, "It’s always helpful to know before you apply, are you including the right stuff? Are you even eligible?”

The Herald suggests pardons "are often viewed as politically prickly, particularly in Massachusetts" and they are "often" left for the "final days" of office, if there are any at all.

See full story here.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Egypt: Journalists Pardoned

The New York Times reports President Abdel Fattah el­Sisi has pardoned pardoned Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, two imprisoned journalists from the Al Jazeera English news network "as well as dozens of other political prisoners" The Times suggests the pardons "appeared to be part of a customary prisoner release on the eve of the Eid al­Adha holiday." An official statement said they were the result of humanitarian and health reasons “in line with the president’s initiative last December to release detained youth.”

Says the Times:
Since Mr. Sisi led the military takeover of the government more than two years ago, the authorities have systematically rounded up perceived opponents, including Islamists and secular­leaning activists, filling Egypt’s jails.
Amnesty International called the jailing of the journalists “ludicrous." A third Al Jazeera colleague was also in December 2013 for "broadcasting false news" and for "belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement." Says the Times:
But prosecutors never presented any evidence that the journalists had belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood or that they had been engaged in anything other than reporting the news. Rather, their arrests were seen as part of a wider crackdown on free speech and dissent by the military­backed government, as well as a result of Egypt’s feud with Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera and has been the main international supporter of the Brotherhood. The journalists were convicted in their first trial and drew terms of seven to 10 years in prison. In January, Egypt’s highest court ordered a retrial, in what appeared to be an acknowledgment of the many flaws of the first ... But in August, a judge sentenced Mr. Fahmy and Mr. Mohamed to three years in prison, repeating the charge that they had fabricated news reports. 
See full story here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Oklahoma: Change for Commutations?

News OK reports that, according to the State's attorney general, the State's Pardon and Parole Board "acted improperly when it approved new eligibility requirements for inmates applying for a shorter sentence." Consequently, the Board "withdrew the new policy" and will regroup to create "new eligibility parameters for commutation." The current process "can take months" and it requires the approval of the Legislature or governor.

It is also observed that the 5 member Board is "relatively new." Its supposedly flawed proposal:
... opened up commutation to more nonviolent offenders. The board wanted to allow nonviolent offenders who had served at least 36 months the ability to apply and require violent offenders to serve half of 85 percent of their sentence before applying. Nonviolent offenders serving life without parole would have been required to serve 22 years before applying, and violent offenders sentenced to life without parole would have to first serve 38 years. At the time, offenders applying for commutation were required to have 20 years remaining on their sentence. 
Now, the Board "will consider commuting the sentences of 12 inmates on Wednesday," among them a mother of three serving 30 years for "enabling" child abuse by her former boyfriend. He actually admitted to his offense and served a mere two years in jail.

News OK reports that there have been no commutation granted in OK "in more than three years" and in June, the Board "addressed" a "backlog" of commutation requests by "whittling down 166 applications to 16." Twelve were granted hearings, and the other four are to be considered at a later date. See full story here.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Obama's Clemency Record: As Grim as Ever

With the new and improved, revamped clemency process, guided by a new U.S. pardon attorney, the well publicized request of the deputy attorney general for more clemency applications (because record numbers were not enough) and the mysterious workings of an army of Clemency Project 2014 lawyers ... President Obama remains among the least merciful presidents in history. Even Law and Order Richard Nixon and George W. Bush were more active with the pardon power.
Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge
See also, our post on the President's "boldness" re commutations of sentence: here.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sanders: On Prisons and Parole

The Washington Post reports Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will "unveil a plan Thursday to ban privately run jails and prisons."
Under the proposal by the Democratic presidential hopeful, the federal government would have three years to end its practice of using private companies to keep people behind bars. The ban would also apply to state and local governments, which have increasingly turned to private contractors in a bid to save money. “It runs counter to the best interests of our country,” Sanders said in an interview Wednesday. “You should not be making a profit off of putting people in prison.” 
The Post also reports Sanders will introduce a bill
aimed at lowering the prison population: reinstating the federal parole system, which was abolished in 1984 as part of a wave of tough-on-crime legislation. Sanders said there needs to be flexibility in the system to release those who have been rehabilitated. 
Meanwhile, lobbyists for two of the largest private prison companies are helping raise money for Hillary Clinton's campaign. See article here.

Christie's Confused Message / Talking Points

As best as we can figure, these were Gov. Chris Christie's talking points on drugs and crime for last night's debate:

1. Non-violent, non-dealing drug users should not go to jail for a first offense
2. Drug treatment should be mandatory
3. The lives of 16-year olds are precious
4. I’m for rehabilitation
5. The War on Drugs has been a failure
6. We should not legalizing "gate way" drugs'
7. Drug offenses are not "victimless"
8. I’ll enforce the federal drug laws

Recognizing complex issues can require complex stances, it seems to us that Christie hat tipped every side on this issue and, consequently, may have said, in effect," I will not really change too much of anything."

Republican Debate on Drugs, Crime

TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN’s Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library here in Simi Valley — Simi Valley, California. Many people on social media wanted us to ask about marijuana legalization. Senator Paul, Governor Christie recently said, quote, “if you’re getting high in Colorado today,” where marijuana has been legalized, “enjoy it until January 2017, because I will enforce the federal laws against marijuana.” Will you?

PAUL: I think one of the great problems, and what American people don’t like about politics, is hypocrisy. People have one standard for others and not for them — for themselves. There is at least one prominent example on the stage of someone who says they smoked pot in high school, and yet the people going to — to jail for this are poor people, often African-Americans and often Hispanics, and yet the rich kids who use drugs aren’t. I personally think that this is a crime for which the only victim is the individual, and I think that America has to take a different attitude. I would like to see more rehabilitation and less incarceration. I’m a fan of the drug courts which try to direct you back towards work and less time in jail. But the bottom line is the states. We say we like the 10th Amendment, until we start talking about this. And I think the federal government has gone too far, I think that the war on drugs has had a racial outcome, and really has been something that has really damaged our inner cities. Not only do the drugs damage them, we damage them again by incarcerating them and then preventing them from getting employment over time. So I don’t think that the federal government should override the states. I believe in the 10th Amendment and I really will say that the states are left to themselves. (APPLAUSE)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bibas: On Mass Incarceration

Stephanos Bibas has a piece at National Review with the provocative title, "The Truth About Mass Incarceration." Provocative, because it is difficult to conclude that there is much of a debate re mass incarceration in the United States. Nonetheless, Bibas speaks. The piece is quite long, rambling. Once suspects there is constant overreach along the way. But, in our view, it is a piece worth considering:

After referencing the standard statistics on the booming prison population (at least that point isn't in debate!) Bibas argues "Liberals ... the NAACP ... Obama ... liberal criminologists ... lawyers ... Michelle Alexander" blame these trends on "racism and the 'War on Drugs,' in particular long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes." Bibas, however, says this "well-known narrative" doesn't "fit the facts."
Prison growth has been driven mainly by violent and property crime, not drugs. As Fordham law professor John Pfaff has shown, more than half of the extra prisoners added in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s were imprisoned for violent crimes; two thirds were in for violent or property crimes. Only about a fifth of prison inmates are incarcerated for drug offenses, and only a sliver of those are in for marijuana. Moreover, many of these incarcerated drug offenders have prior convictions for violent crimes. The median state prisoner serves roughly two years before being released; three quarters are released within roughly six years. For the last several decades, arrest rates as a percentage of crimes — including drug arrests — have been basically flat, as have sentence lengths. 
What has driven prison populations? Bibas writes:

Time Out: to Care for the Ignorant

To assist those suffering from the form of ignorance embracing Marco Rubio:

Friday, September 11, 2015

Cuba: 3,522 Pardons

Yahoo News reports Cuba's government will pardon 3,522 prisoners "as a gesture of goodwill ahead of Pope Francis's visit to the communist island." Among those pardoned are:
... people over 60 years old, younger than 20 years old with no criminal record, the chronically ill, women and foreigners, provided their country of origin vows to repatriate them
An official statement read:
"On the occasion of the visit by His Holiness Pope Francis, the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba (the highest governmental body)... agreed to pardon 3,522 prisoners, chosen due by the nature of the acts for which they were jailed, their behavior in prison, the time of punishment and health concerns," 
Yahoo reports that, on in December 2011, Raul Castro's government "granted a pardon to 2,991 prisoners on the occasion of a visit by pope Benedict" Fidel Castro freed prisoner just after the visit of John Paul II, in January 1998. See full story here,

Guest Submission: On Huey Long and Carl Weiss

Huey Long
September 8

It was on this date, in 1935, that Dr. Carl Austin Weiss was murdered by Senator Huey Long's bodyguards and - ever since then - has been wrongfully accused of assassinating Senator Huey Long, by the Long Family and the Louisiana State Police. This is what really happened:

On the saddening day of Sunday, September 8,1935, Dr. Weiss and his family attended Mass at St. Joseph's Catholic Church (later St. Joseph's Cathedral) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After Mass, Dr. Weiss and his family went to his parents' home in Baton Rouge. Dr. Weiss and his family returned home later that evening, but he left again because he had to visit a patient he was due to operate on the next day. Dr. Weiss, later telephoned from the patient's home and told his wife he would be home.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Povah: On Women, Prison, Clemency

Amy Ralston Povah was arrested for collecting bail money for her husband, who manufactured MDMA. When all was said and done, he walked away with three years' probation and she got a 24 year sentence on a "drug conspiracy" charge.  He "cooperated" with the prosecutors. She refused a plea bargain. But Bill Clinton commuted her sentence on July 7, 2000—after she had served 9 years and 3 months. As she puts it, she felt like she had won "the lottery."

Povah says she had a "mix of bittersweet emotions" this summer when President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders. She writes:
Although I’m happy for these recipients, prison reform advocates like myself were hoping for more. ... Having served time with over a thousand women, I believe they are the hardest hit victims in the war on drugs. Many women are indicted because they are merely a girlfriend or wife of a drug dealer, yet are not part of the inner circle and have limited information to plea bargain with. 
Povah believes women "are being overlooked" by the Department of Justice when it comes to commutations of sentence. She notes that, over the last 30 years, the female prison population has grown by over 800% and "more than half of the mothers in prison were the primary financial supporters of their children before they were incarcerated." Even more pointedly:
 ... the vast majority of women in federal prison were put there due to conspiracy laws that hold them equally culpable for the criminal actions of other co-defendants, often a spouse or boyfriend. In other words, many women are guilty by association. There are hundreds of women sitting in federal prison on drug conspiracy charges who deserve clemency—most of them first offenders serving life without parole. 
Of course, "with a stroke of his pen" President Obama can "give these deserving women a second chance at life." Povah suggests that he starts "right away." She has written an editorial which provides these insights several other, more personal insights, into her experience in prison here.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Pardon Process Explained

On February 14, 2001, U.S. Pardon Attorney Roger Adams appeared in a hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary and explained the pardoned process as follows (emphasis added):

Executive clemency petitions most commonly request relief in the form of pardon or commutation of sentence. The Department of Justice processes requests for executive clemency in accordance with regulations promulgated by the President and set forth at 28 C.F.R. Sec. Sec. 1.1 to 1.11. These regulations provide internal guidance for Department of Justice personnel who advise and assist the President in carrying out the pardon function, but they create no enforceable rights in persons applying for executive clemency and do not restrict in any way the plenary clemency authority granted to the President under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. While the regulations thus govern the process for clemency requests submitted to the Department, they do not govern requests submitted directly to the President.

A presidential pardon serves as an official statement of forgiveness for the commission of a federal crime and restores basic civil rights. It does not connote innocence. Under the provisions of 28 C.F.R. Sec. 1.2, a person does not become eligible to file a pardon request with the Department until the expiration of a five-year waiting period that commences upon the date of the individual's release from confinement (including home or community confinement) for his most recent conviction or, if no condition of confinement was imposed as part of that sentence, the date of conviction. Typically, the waiting period is triggered by the sentence imposed for the offense for which the pardon is sought, but any subsequent conviction begins the waiting period anew. Moreover, the same regulation stipulates that no petition for pardon should be filed by an individual who is then on probation, parole, or supervised release. As the foregoing indicates, a person who has not yet been convicted or has not fully served the sentence for the federal crime for which pardon is sought is ineligible for pardon under the regulations that guide the Department of Justice's processing of pardon requests. However, these rules do not bind the President. The President retains the authority under the Constitution to consider a pardon request from an individual who is ineligible to apply under the regulations or who has not applied at all, and to grant clemency to such a person if he believes such action to be appropriate.

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