Saturday, February 6, 2016

Letter from Leonard Peltier

CounterPunch is featuring a compelling letter composed by 71-year old  Leonard Peltier, who notes, "On February 6th, I will have been imprisoned for 40 years!"

In that time, Peltier says, he has earned "about 4-5 years good time" and, since the "average time served on a life sentence" before parole when he was indited was 7 years, he has "served nearly 6 life sentences." Consequently, he is also 10 year past "mandatory release after serving 30 years."

He describes the "history" of his "bid" as follows:
My first app was with Jimmy Carter. He denied it. Ronald Reagan promised President Mikhail Gorbachev that he would release me if the Soviet Union released a prisoner, but Reagan reneged. George H.W. Bush did nothing. The next app was with Bill Clinton. He left office without taking action even though the Pardon Attorney, [Margaret Colgate Love], did an 11-month investigation (it usually takes 9 months) and we were told she had recommended clemency. George W. Bush denied that petition in 2009. And in all of the applications for clemency, the FBI has interfered with an executive order. That’s illegal as hell! 
Peltier says he now has an abdominal aortic aneurysm and doctors have told him that, if it bursts, he could bleed to death. Since he is in  maximum security prison, he says, he will not get "sent for treatment" until his condition is "terminal." He adds:
As President Obama completes the final year of his term, I hope that he will continue to fight to fulfill his promises, and further the progress his Administration has made towards working in partnership with First Peoples. It gives me hope that this President has worked hard to affirm the trust relationship with the Tribal Nations. With YOUR encouragement, I believe Obama will have the courage and conviction to commute my sentence and send me home to my family. 
See full letter here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

New U.S. Pardon Attorney: Zauzmer

NPR reports that a "veteran prosecutor" has been been nominated as the "new leader" of the Office of the Pardon Attorney. Robert Zauzmer has worked in the U.S. Attorney's office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania since 1990 and is said to have experience "training prosecutors all over the country in how to evaluate prisoners' requests for early release." There are no indications of the impact of that training, or how many prisoners have ever benefited from it, if any. No one knows if he, or anyone in his former office has ever recommended anyone for clemency.

Zauzmer says, however, that there have been "many occasions" over the "years" when he was "troubled" by "sentences of 20, 30 years, life imprisonment imposed on low-level offenders based on mandatory sentencing laws." Of course, President Obama, Eric Holder, Loretta E. Lynch, James Cole and many others with power, in very high places, have been similarly troubled - and deeply - but the result has been less than satisfactory on most fronts.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

France: Domestic Abuse Pardon

68 year old Jacqueline Sauvage was married for 47 years to a husband who was a violent alcoholic, "who she said raped and beat her and her three daughters and also abused her son." It is reported that "more than 400,000 people" signed a petition "demanding her release."
In September 10, 2012, the day after her son hanged himself, Sauvage shot her husband three times in the back with a rifle. She was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison in October 2014, which was upheld on appeal in December 2015 as the state rejected her plea of self-defence.
French President Francois Hollande, says that, “In the face of an exceptional human situation" he wants to "make it possible for  to return to her family as soon as possible.”

France24 reports that she has been pardoned.

Saunders: Cruz's Jekyll / Hyde Routine

Debra Saunders of the San Francisco has written an intriguing piece on Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who once wrote a piece for the Brennan Center for Justice "that ripped the federal criminal justice system on three fronts — 'over-criminalization, harsh mandatory minimum sentences and the demise of jury trials.'" Cruz expressed particular concern about  “Draconian mandatory minimum sentences,” which result in disproportionate sentences, especially for “nonviolent drug offenders.” Saunders notes Cruz also "co-sponsored the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 with Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill."

But, Saunders observes, voters may now not recognize the Cruz that is appearing "on the GOP presidential primary trail." He seems to be a different gig. This Cruz "voted against the bipartisan Sentencing Reform Act, introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, also with the support of Lee and Durbin." In doing so, Cruz shifted into Willie Horton mode, warning that "if an inmate released by reforms ever hurt anyone, lawmakers 'can fully expect to be held accountable' by voters."

If there is anything certain about any prison reform measure that involves clemency or early release it is this: those in opposition will ensure that repeat offenders will be given an extraordinary amount of media attention, without any sense of proportion whatsoever. Those who make good faith efforts to battle their way through the numerous hurdles, collateral consequences, of their convictions will be largely ignored. The former will always be exponentially outnumbered by the later.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Clinton's Pardons. Still All Ugly

Josh Gerstein of Politico reports that the Clinton Library has "released the largest set of records ever—more than 43,000 pages—detailing her husband's use of his executive clemency powers while he was president." They are a testament to what the pardon process has become (or what it can be like):
Clinton approved pardons for both [Edgar and Vonna Jo Gregory] over the Justice Department's objections. In the House investigation that followed, [longtime Clinton counselor and lawyer Bruce] Lindsey said he supported the pardons, Clinton pardon counsel Meredith Cabe said she didn't find the Gregorys' request particularly compelling and White House Counsel Beth Nolan said she could not remember her stance on the issue, a congressional report says. However, the records released this week show that all three signed a memo to Clinton, urging him to "favorably consider" the pardons.
The papers also show that, during his last-minute pardon bonanza, White House lawyers warned Clinton, "who had endorsed a constitutional amendment to vindicate victims’ rights" that the "customary notifications of victims" were "not being made because the cases had bypassed the usual Justice Department system."

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

NY Times: The Pardon Problem

The New York Times argues that the "sudden resignation" of U.S. pardon attorney, Deborah Leff, is
... the latest evidence that until the clemency process is pried from the grip of the Justice Department, it will remain broken. 
Maybe so. We don't know. Second and third hand reports (from unidentified "friends") suggest Leff resigned because she was not happy with the level of support her office received. But, it is hard to believe she was not aware of the situation in that office, generally, when she came to the position. It was receiving a record number of clemency applications before she stepped in and the number of pardon and commutation grants was abysmal.

The Times recognizes that "for most of his time in office" President Obama "has exercised this power only rarely" - even though he has "focused more attention on this issue." The Times says Leff’s appointment "was a promising sign."

Friday, January 22, 2016

Obama: The Final Countdown

It is commonly observed that presidents (or governors) often wait until the "last-minute" to pardon.

If by "last-minute," one means something like Bill Clinton's final-hours-pardon-bonanza, there is little truth in it. Few presidents (maybe 3) have ever done anything even remotely similar to what Clinton did.

If, on the other hand, one means to suggest that presidents tend to grant more pardons and commutations in the 4th and final year of the term - than they did in the previous three - there is value in the observation. Still, it is something to document, not something simply to assert. Our own original data on the matter show most presidential terms have, in fact, featured the highest number of clemency grants in the fourth and final year. These terms include:

Washington II
Jefferson I
Madison I
Madison II
Monroe I
Jackson II
Lincoln I
Grant I
Grant II
Cleveland I
B. Harrison
Cleveland II
Wilson I
Wilson II
Coolidge I
Eisenhower I
Eisenhower II
Reagan II
H.W. Bush
Clinton II
W.Bush I
W. Bush II

In addition, these succession presidents granted the largest number of pardons and commutations in the fourth and final year of their terms:

T. Roosevelt

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wisconsin Public Radio: On Scott Walker, Making a Murderer and Pardons

This afternoon, Thursday, January 21, 2016, at 4:00 pm (Central) the Editor of this blog will be a guest on "Central Time," a production of Wisconsin Public Radio.

The host, Veronica Rueckert, will focus the discussion on the pardon power and, in particular, Governor Scott Walker's explicit promise not to use it.

Prof. Ruckman will explain the constitutional value of pardons, discuss Walker's stance and discuss clemency in relation to the "Making a Murderer" series on Netflix. Callers will be welcomed.

Interested readers may tune into the broadcast online here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

More Details on the Non-Trade Trade

CNN now reports:
The U.S. government had readied a plane to take the seven Iranians pardoned in a recent prisoner exchange out of the country, but none of them chose to return to Iran, a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations told CNN Wednesday. The original plan was for the plane to take the Iranians, most of whom hold U.S. citizenship as well, to Geneva and then take the Americans released by Iran on to Germany, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private negotiations. Swiss plane that brought the Americans to Geneva was to take the Iranians back to Tehran, but when none of the pardoned Iranians chose to take the flight, there was no reason to send it, the official said.
See full story here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Pardon Attorney "Frustrated"

While the Obama administration brags about its impressive clemency record - relative to some of the most neglectful presidents in history - it is apparent that others inside the administration have a different view. The Washington Post is reporting the following re U.S. Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff who abruptly resigned last week:
“She never got the staffing she needed,” said one friend. “She was very frustrated.” Other people close to Leff said that she was passionate about making the clemency initiative work but had been unhappy for quite some time about not having enough resources.
See story here.

Obama into Hoffa Territory?

Presidents have attached a wild variety of conditions to pardons throughout history: that recipients join the military, that they return to their mothers, that they leave Washington DC and never return, that they refrain from the use of alcohol, etc. But, what it the President attached the condition that a recipient never attend the Methodist church again?

If one views the president of the United States as the functional equivalent of the divinely ordained King of England and the pardon power as one of his unlimited, extra terrestrial powers ... sure ... why not?

But, if the pardon power is viewed as a tool of an elected president, nested in a system of separation of powers and checks and balances and, on top of all of that, limited by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights ... well ... that's quite possibly another story altogether.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The No Swap Prisoner Swap!

According to the Dallas Morning News:
Although Iranian officials characterized the arrangement as an exchange, none of the seven who were granted clemency — six Iranian Americans and one with solely Iranian citizenship — were handed over to Iran, as in a traditional prisoner swap. Instead, U.S. officials said, they were free to decide individually whether to go to Iran.
So valuable to Iran, Iran does not want / need them back! See story here.

Oklahoma: 2 Commutations

Jennifer Palmer of The Oklahoman reports Governor Fallin "has approved shortening the prison sentences of two state inmates — the first commutations since 2012." The commutations were recommended by the State's Pardon and Parole Board.

One goes to 53 year old drug offender Donnie Daniel, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Daniel has served 18 years now and is terminally ill. The sentence was commuted to life with the possibility of parole.

The second recipient is 60 year old William Wood Jr., another drug offender whose 117-year-sentence "will be shortened to time served." Wood has been in prison for 10 years and still "has to serve an 81-year sentence for possession of a controlled dangerous substance plus one year for drug paraphernalia." See story here.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Obama: 70 Pardons, 187 Commutations, Still ...

President Obama remains among the least merciful two-term presidents in history:

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

Where are the Knuckleheads When You Really Need Them ?

Today, we have a sense that the President of the United States has, over the weekend, offered pardons, or commutations, to maybe seven Iranians, some of whom have been tried and convicted. Others not so much. Preemptively, if you will.

The White House - always the cheerleader for exhilarating transparency - refuses to comment on the matter. Even the Washington Post must guess a bit. American media are searching the pages and services of foreign media for information. No one is condemning the silence, the stone walling, the ...

It is hard not to think back on January 23, 2009, when Keith Olbermann and Watergate convictee John Dean were in a lather, wondering about the possibility of double secret preemptive pardons from George W. Bush. Where are the voices of such knuckleheads now? Silence. Deafening.

"Could he have pardoned more people than we know?" Olbermann asked Dean, as though he were on the verge of passing out.

Dean: he  "might have, indeed" ...  "could have done it."

OMG !!!

With one last gasping breath, Olbermann offered,  "We'll go looking for secret pardons later in the week, I suppose."

[Cue look of disgust]

See post here.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

U.S. Pardon Attorney: Does It Even Matter?

As President Obama goes on the hunt for a new U.S. Pardon Attorney (something he should have done at the beginning of his presidency - instead of simply retaining Ronald L. Rodgers, George W. Bush's appointee), many wonder what impact the abrupt resignation of Deborah Leff will have on the already lame clemency record of this administration.

Underlying many discussions / speculations in the days to the come will be the implicit assumption that it matters who the U.S. Pardon Attorney is. While that assumption is one that deserves empirical testing (as opposed to mere repetition) we wish to assert that we agree that it does matter who the U.S. Pardon Attorney is ... or, at least it can matter, and a very great deal. Not in terms of ultimate exercise of the pardon power, of course. We all understand that the power belongs, ultimately, to one person, Barack Obama. 

But that does not eliminate the possibility that the U.S. Pardon Attorney can 1) be an honest, reliable advocate for applicants 2) can manage the Office of the Pardon Attorney in such a manner that applications are considered seriously, fairly and in a timely fashion and 3) can make recommendations in accordance with the notions and demands of justice to the Deputy Attorney General and the President. History abounds with examples of Pardon Attorneys who interpreted laws and utilized exceptions to the advantage, or detriment, of clemency applicants. They have very often stood their ground and argued persuasively, both for and against clemency applications, with federal prosecutors, judges, attorneys general and presidents. There is no reason whatsoever that the U.S. Pardon Attorney should be an aggregate blob of gray goo.

Obama: Pardons for Prisoner Exchange

It is reported that President Obama has granted "pardons" to 68 year old Bahram Mechanic and his co-defendants, Khosrow Afghahi and Tooray Faridi. Four other Iranians may be involved in the grants and charges may have been dropped against 4 to 14 others (reports vary). Some of the grant recipients have been tried and convicted. Others have not, so those clemency grants are "preemptive" in nature (a phrase more popular in media during the Bush administration).

Mechanic was arrested for violating "trade restrictions" when he sent "electronic parts from the U.S. to a company he owned in Iran." Now,it is also believed that the "pardons" are part of a "prisoner exchange" that was announced this morning. It may all result in at least four Americans being released by Iran.

The American prisoners include Jason Rezaian (Washington Post correspondent), Amir Hekmati (a US Marine  charged with spying), Saeed Abedini (a Christian who gathered a Bible study group) and businessman Siamak Namazi. There is also talk that two others may be released as well.

The White House is not providing comment to reporters at present.

See stories here. and here. and here.

* This post is developing

Friday, January 15, 2016

Shock: U.S. Pardon Attorney to Resign

The Associated Press reports that Deborah Leff, the U.S. Pardon Attorney, is resigning "at the end of the month after less than two years on the job."

Former U.S. Pardon Attorneys, 1892-2008
C.F. Scott (1892-1893)
William Endicott, Jr. (1894-1896)
John H. Campbell (1897-1899)
James Easby-Smith (1900-1904)
Peyton Gordon (1905-1907)
James A. Finch (1908-1935)
Robert H. Turner (1936)
Daniel M. Lyons (1937-1953)
Kenneth V. Harvey (1954-1955, 1957)
Reed Cozart (1956, 1958-1968)
T. Oscar Smith (1969)
Lawrence M. Traylor (1970-1976)
John R. Stanish (1977-1979)
David C. Stephenson (1980-1990)
Margaret Colgate Love (1991-1997)
Roger Adams (1998-2008)
Ronald L. Rodgers (2008-2014)
Deborah Leff (2014-2016)

Obama, Mercy and Latinas

At Fusion, Jason Hernandez finds himself:
... baffled that of the 184 individuals who have received his mercy in the last seven years, not one has been a Latina. Latinas make up about 17% of the U.S. population and 33% of the women’s federal prison population. They are three times more likely to go to prison than white women. And the number of Latinos sent to federal prison nearly quadrupled between 1991 and 2007. There’s no shortage of worthy Latina candidates for a presidential clemency.
Hernandez argues, further:
The War on Drugs should be called the War on Minorities. Harsh drug sentencing has deeply hurt the black and hispanic communities, especially our children. Studies show our drug policies have done more harm than good by breaking up families and decimating communities of color. Brown lives matter, too. 
We are aware of no rigorous data set on this topic, but we note the following persons have received pardons or commutations of sentence from the President:
Year Name State Form Clemency
1(2) Alvarez, Ricardo GA Pardon 12/19/2013
1(2) Hernandez, Jason TX Commutation 12/19/2013
2(2) Gonzales, Fernando Commutation 12/15/2014
2(2) Guerro, Antonio Commutation 12/15/2014
2(2) Torres, Israel TX Commutation 12/17/2014
3(2) Garcia, Amondo CA Commutation 3/31/2015
3(2) Martinez-Gil, Robert TX Commutation 3/31/2015
3(2) Navejar, David FL Commutation 3/31/2015
3(2) Castro, Juan Diego TX Commutation 7/13/2015
3(2) Aviles, Jose FL Commutation 12/18/2015
3(2) Cabarris, Arnold VA Commutation 12/18/2015
3(2) Contreas, Alex AK Commutation 12/18/2015
3(2) Figueroa, Pedro PA Commutation 12/18/2015
3(2) Gonzales, Alberto PA Commutation 12/18/2015
3(2) Lopez, Carlos NH Commutation 12/18/2015
3(2) Mendoza-Cardenas, Juan GA Commutation 12/18/2015
3(2) Padilla, David PA Commutation 12/18/2015
3(2) Rodriquez, Amador IL Commutation 12/18/2015
3(2) Sanchez, Angel PA Commutation 12/18/2015
3(2) Sanchious, Timothy VA Commutation 12/18/2015
3(2) Santoyo, Michael MI Commutation 12/18/2015

Monday, January 11, 2016

Obama's Guest, State of the Union

Sue Ellen Allen (Scottsdale, AZ)

Sue Ellen Allen knows the difficulties that formerly incarcerated individuals face after prison – both as the co-founder of a nonprofit helping inmates reenter society and as a former inmate starting over after her release in 2009. Her organization, Gina’s Team, supports women in Arizona prisons and upon release, gives them the resources they need and teaches them how give back to the community. Named for her cellmate in prison who died in incarceration, Sue Ellen started Gina’s Team with Gina’s parents in an effort to provide women a path out of prison, back into the community and out of additional trouble with the law. She wrote the President to thank him for the launch of a new pilot program that enables incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and to encourage a national dialog that includes women in prison reform. Sue Ellen is proud to be accompanied to Washington by Gina’s mother, Diane, whose daughter gave her a renewed purpose in life.

Visit the Gina's Team website here.

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