Thursday, March 26, 2015

Illinois: Jackson Jr. Walks

Jess Jackson, Jr. notes that former Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. left an Alabama federal prison this week, after serving "a portion of his 2 ½-year sentence" for having "illegally spent $750,000 on campaign funds." Jackson was the prison in Montgomery after he "got into a dispute" with prison officials at the Butner Federal Prison in North Carolina.

Like many prominent persons before him who wound up in prison, Jackson is said to have developed passionate views on the topic of "prison reform." In addition, he sent a letter to, informing readers that he wants presidential pardon. It is said that Jackson is also calling on President Obama to pardon the leaders of American slave rebellions

Jackson wrote two books while incarcerated, "The Tao of Jesus Christ," and "The Last Campaign: A Memoir." See full story here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Lincoln v. Obama (Repost)

Abraham Lincoln - who found himself moderately preoccupied with the Civil War - found a way to grant presidential pardons and commutations of sentences, each and every month of his administration:

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President Obama, on the other hand, is no Abraham Lincoln:

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Throw in the fact that Lincoln 1) was not looking at nearly as many applications 2) was not looking at a costly, over-capacity federal prison system over-burdened with young, first time, non-violent drug offenders and, well, you might start to reach certain conclusions.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Obama Explains Clemency Policy to Huffington Post

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Obama: Even More Applications May Mean More Mercy

In a recent Huffington Post interview with the President, this question was forwarded: "On pardons, you've given out pardons at a slower rate than your predecessors. Why?"

The President responded that, in the "first year" of his administration, "the Department of Justice recommended -- there was an office that would recommend the pardons." But, the President said that he noticed he was getting recommendations regarding "mostly small-time crimes from very long ago." In his view, these applications "were legitimate, but they didn't address the broader issues that we face, particularly around nonviolent drug offenses."

So, the President said he has now "revamped" the "DOJ office" and it is now "getting much more representative applicants." Finally, the President said, "I think what you'll see is not only me exercising that pardon power and clemency power more aggressively for people who meet the criteria -- nonviolent crimes, have served already a long period of time, have shown that they're rehabilitated -- but also we're working with Democrats and Republicans around criminal justice reform issues."

And that was it. See transcript here.

The trends in applications which the president happened to have "noticed" (supposedly in his first year in office) have, of course, been going on for many years, decades actually. It is so very difficult to believe that he was completely ignorant of this before entering office.

Regardless, his explanation sheds precious little light on why he has granted so few pardons and commutations of sentence in the five long years following his supposed first-year discovery.

Second, we assume the President will, in fact, be more "aggressive" in his "exercising" of the pardon power because, mathematically, it is almost impossible for him to be less aggressive. To date, he is one of the most merciless presidents in the history of the United States.

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Huffington Post: Obama on Clemency

This afternoon, Saturday, March 21st, the Huffington Post will publish an interview with President Obama in which, it is said, he provides commentary on clemency. Developing.

Tunisia: 1,531 Pardons

All reports the President of the Republic "has decided to grant clemency or commute prison sentences for 1,351 offenders; 956 among the latter will be released." That is more acts of mercy than were granted by Obama, W. Bush, Clinton, H.W. Bush and Reagan combined. It is reported that a Pardon Committee" :
applied objective criteria of equal treatment for prisoners, the gravity of the crime or the offence, length of sentence served and the penalty remaining to be executed. Other criteria such as first-time or repeat offender status and good conduct are also determining.
Finally, detainees convicted of "serious crimes" which "impact on society and public order" (terrorist crimes, weapon trafficking and smuggling) were excluded. See story here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Obama: Hope and Change Clemency Scorecard

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"I think the concerns are generally raised about mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders. And I think there are some questions that we ought to ask ... we ought to look at the statistics and see, are we putting in prison, are we using our limited prison space for the kind of people that we want to have there? Are the sentences commensurate with the kind of conduct that puts people in jail for these mandatory minimum sentences? Those are the kinds of questions I think that we ought to ask ... I would hope that we would ask those questions ... " - Deputy Attorney General, Eric Holder, March 1999 

"… I think its time we took a hard look at the wisdom of locking up some first time nonviolent drug users for decades. Someone once said, and I quote: 'While minimum sentences for first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space, and/or heal people from their disease.' You know who said that? That was George W. Bush -- six years ago. And I don't say this very often, but I agree with George W. Bush. The difference is that he hasn't done anything about it. When I am President of the United States, I will." - Senator Barack Obama, October 2007

"… people who have made mistakes, particularly when they’re young … I don’t blame employers being nervous about hiring someone with a record … On the other hand, one of the great things about America is that we give people second chances." - Senator Barack Obama, January 2010.

"This is part of my faith, my religious faith, but you don't have to be religious to, I think, believe in the idea of redemption, that people can get a second chance that people can change." - Senator Barack Obama, January 2010.

"The president wanted to talk about two things, but the first was Michael [Vick],'' Lurie said, according to King. "He said, 'So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance. He was ... passionate about it. He said it's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail. And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.''... Obama has long been a big supporter of giving ex-prisoners the opportunity to redeem themselves, and has worked on legislation with that goal in mind" ABC News, December 2010.

"Attorney Margaret Love, also welcomed the news of Obama's first commutation. "I'm very pleased," Love said. "I hope that it is a sign he intends to look at the many other people in federal prisons serving very long crack sentences which his own administration has called unjust." - Politico, November 2011

“There will be 76 days between the election and inauguration for the president to exercise his power,” said one official, who was not authorized to talk publicly and so spoke on the condition of anonymity. Officials said there has been growing interest inside the White House in reforming the pardon process, specifically how recommendations are made to the president. - Washington Post, July, 2012

"There are more low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who remain in prison, and who would likely have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of precisely the same offenses today ... This is not fair, and it harms our criminal justice system." - Deputy Attorney General James Cole, January, 2014.

"In recent years, relying on the recommendation of the pardon attorney, presidents have pardoned fewer and fewer people each year and released only a handful early from prison ... That is set to change" - ProPublica, April 2014

"When I came into office, for the first couple of years, I noticed that I wasn't really getting a lot of recommendations for pardons — at least not as many as I would expect ... And many of them were for older folks... But sort of the more typical cases that I would have expected weren't coming up. Historically, what the president would get is a big stack of recommendations, and then I would sign off on them ... So what we've done now is open it up so people are more aware of the process." - President Barack Obama, March 2015

"... the President seems genuinely willing to consider requests for full pardon from people who have completed their sentences and “led an exemplary life, but now really want to be able to start a new career.” This is good news. President Obama has taken a commendable interest in prisoner requests for sentence commutation ..." - Collateral Consequences Resource Center, March 2015 

"So we've revamped now the DOJ office. We're now getting much more representative applicants. And I think what you'll see is not only me exercising that pardon power and clemency power more aggressively for people who meet the criteria -- nonviolent crimes, have served already a long period of time, have shown that they're rehabilitated -- but also we're working with Democrats and Republicans around criminal justice reform issues." President Obama, March 2015

Obama: Updated Clemency Statistics

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 29
1 in every 779
1 in every 214

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

NY Post: Pardon Hillary !

As the administration of George W. Bush came to an end, media speculation of last-minute Clintontesque pardon binge was, well, epic. Even the most serious looking anchor-persons, reporters and commentators would predict, or suggest the distinct possibility, that Bush would pardon every recently convicted notorious criminal and/or every criminal with ties to Bush, Texas or the Republican Party. The only apparent boundry on such "reporting" was the shamelessness of the person talking. So far as we are aware, this blog was the only voice condemning / mocking this "trash time" exercise (equivalent to stupid shots taken at the end of a basketball game).

Will the Obama administration end in the same fashion? Hard to say. But Seth Lipsky of the New York Post seems to be stretching his muscles, in anticipation of the exercise. He notes:
President Obama doesn’t need his phone for this job — just the pen. With but a stroke of it, he could pardon Hillary Clinton for any crimes she may have committed in E-mailgate and spare the rest of us the long drama. 
Lipsky recognizes that Clinton "hasn’t been formally accused of anything" but adds, "that doesn’t mean that she couldn’t get a presidential pardon." After all, Nixon wasn't convicted of anything either! What a great idea, Obama can grant a pardon comparable to that of Richard Nixon! It is the stuff of genius!

Lipsky then informs readers:
... Fact is that the pardon is the least-fettered presidential power. The president can pardon anyone for any offense against the United States, save for treason. He doesn’t have to get the consent of the Senate. He doesn’t have to get it cleared by a federal judge. Nor does he have to run it past any prosecutor or even the attorney general. He could write it out by hand on a napkin, and the deed would be done. 
Prone to understatement, he observes that a pardon would "put [Clinton] under a cloud" if "she’s innocent." He also wonders if  President Obama might "have his own interests in a Benghazi coverup?" Finally, this idea:
Clinton would always have a fallback position if she thought a pardon would do more harm than good: She could refuse it. The Supreme Court tends to view a pardon as an act of grace that can be spurned. The record is not entirely uniform, but that’s the gist of it. 
See post here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

North Carolina: Wrongly Convicted and Imprisoned? So What!

Wrongful Conviction Compensation
 in California
In 1983, Henry McCollum was 19 years old and Leon Brown was 15. That is when they were both arrested for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. Although a judge concluded “no physical evidence, either at the time of their arrest or at any time since, linked Mr. McCollum or Mr. Brown to the scene or the commission of this crime” and the case was based “almost entirely” on confessions that were recanted, both men were convicted. Henry was sentence to death, Leon to life in prison.

Decades later, DNA pointed to one Roscoe Artis, who is serving a life sentence for a 1983 rape in the same community. So, Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown were given $45 apiece and released from prison.  The State of North Carolina offers as much as 750,000 for persons wrongly convicted and imprisoned. But, the Times reports:
Because of the approach lawyers used to secure swifter releases for the two men, neither is entitled to wrongful conviction compensation until he gets a pardon. 
Which is to say, compensation is available for those declared innocent by the governor, but not a judge! A spokesperson says the case is a "top priority" for Governor McCrory. Again, they were released last September! The Times reports:
... Lawyers here say the pardon process in North Carolina has been an enigmatic one for far longer than Mr. McCrory’s term ...What remains unclear is how, exactly, Mr. McCrory’s process unfolds, and how much he considers any opposition to pardon applications. In the cases of Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown, there is some, namely from the retired district attorney who prosecuted them. The prosecutor, Joe Freeman Britt, who came to be known as the nation’s “deadliest D.A.” because he won death sentences so often, said, “There is no doubt in my mind that they’re not entitled to a pardon, and there is no doubt in my mind that they’re not entitled to compensation by the taxpayers.”
The current district attorney says “the state does not have a case” and McCollum and Brown will not be prosecuted again. See full story here.

Ohio: Kasich's Old School Hard Line

Kasich: Merciless
The Columbus Dispatch is one of the few papers in the country that faithfully monitors the pardon power as used - or not used - by the governors of the state. In part, this is because the state has made the process more transparent. Now, it is reported:
In his first four years in office, Gov. John Kasich used his executive clemency power more sparingly than any other Ohio governor in the past three decades. He granted 66 of 1,521 requests, about 4.4 percent of 1,521 non-death-penalty cases he received and acted upon from 2011 to 2014, according to information obtained by The Dispatch under a public-records request. That makes him the most conservative with clemency of any Ohio governor going back to the 1980s, when the state began tracking gubernatorial clemency. 
These days, well, that is the kind of merciless stance that has "potential presidential candidate" written all over it. In Ohio:
Clemency is a unique executive power of Ohio governors, broad but defined by law. The governor can halt or postpone executions, commute or reduce a sentence so that a prisoner can be freed now or in the future, and grant pardons, erasing a past criminal record. 
Other interesting data: Former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) approved 20 percent of 1,615 clemency requests he handled between 2007 and 2011. Republicans George V. Voinovich (1991-98) and Bob Taft (1999-2007) each approved less than 10 percent of their clemency requests:
Democrat Richard F. Celeste, governor from 1983 to 1991, used his clemency power most liberally ...  Celeste’s actions caused an uproar, and the clemency process was legally challenged. The General Assembly changed the law to require governors to have a recommendation from the Ohio Parole Board before making any clemency decision. The governor doesn’t have to agree with the parole board, but merely have a board recommendation in hand. 
Governor Kasich is reported to have "differed" with the board in 23 cases just last year. See full story here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Obama: More Talk on Pardons

USA Today reports President Obama "was disappointed that he wasn't getting enough pardon cases to his desk early in his presidency, and said he's working with the Justice Department to increase those numbers." Said the president:
When I came into office, for the first couple of years, I noticed that I wasn't really getting a lot of recommendations for pardons — at least not as many as I would expect ...  And many of them were for older folks, and a lot of them were people just looking for a pardon so they could restore their gun rights. But sort of the more typical cases that I would have expected weren't coming up.
Obama also says he is taking a "new approach" to pardons:
Historically, what the president would get is a big stack of recommendations, and then I would sign off on them. Because obviously I don't have time to go through each request ... So what we've done now is open it up so people are more aware of the process.
But, USA Today notes, "So far, no one has been granted clemency under that program."

And that just about says it all.

See full story here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pardon Patraeus?

Max Boot, at Commentary, notes that David Petraeus’s acceptance of a plea bargain "has been met both with unseemly Schadenfreude by some who delight in seeing an America hero revealed to have flaws as well as criticism from others who believe that he got off too lightly."

Patraeus pled guilty to "unauthorized sharing of classified information" and was fined $40,000 and placed on two years' probation  Boot notes "others have faced stiffer sentences for revealing classified information" but it is also true that "other leaks have not been punished at all." Indeed, leaks of classified information to journalists or authors "are a routine occurrence in Washington." In addition, "few senior officials are ever prosecuted for mishandling classified information." More interestingly, Boot argues "there is little logic to the way that secrecy laws are enforced" and "almost anyone in a position of authority can be prosecuted if prosecutors are so inclined."

Boot's piece then notes:
A breach of security far more egregious than Petraesus’s was committed by one of his predecessors as CIA director, John Deutch, who routinely kept classified material on unclassified computers. A CIA investigation subsequently revealed, that all of these computers “were connected to or contained modems that allowed external connectivity to computer networks such as the Internet. Such computers are vulnerable to attacks by unauthorized persons. CIA personnel retrieved [classified] information from Deutch’s unclassified computers and magnetic media related to covert action, Top Secret communications intelligence and the National Reconnaissance Program budget.” And yet what penalty did Deutch suffer? The Justice Department under Janet Reno declined to prosecute him, and President Clinton issued him a pardon to make sure not that no future prosecutor could ever come after him. By comparison with what Clinton or Deutch did, Petraeus’s offense is pretty minor. 
Boot says that "a friend in the military" wrote to him:
They have pursued [Patraeus] for a charge of which virtually every senior officer in the US military has been guilty. EVERY senior officer has such notebooks (we are a notetaking military, as you know) and EVERY senior officer carries those notebooks around with them. And ALMOST EVERY senior officer I have encountered keeps them after retirement.
In sum, Boot says the offense which Petraeus has pleaded guilty "is a minor one" that was "discovered in the course of a fishing expedition" by the FBI. There is "no evidence" of any harm to national security. Boot asks, "If Deutch could get a presidential pardon, why not Petraeus, who has dedicated most of his life to serving and defending our country?" See full editorial here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Georgia: Execution?

Georgia is considering whether or not to make Kelly Renee Gissendaner only the 16th female to be executed since Furman v. Georgia, Meanwhile, about 1,400 men have been executed nationwide.

Gissendaner had plotted the stabbing death of her husband, Douglas, by her boyfriend, Gregory Owen (who will be up for parole in eight years because he testified against her). The Associated Press describes the murder as follows:
Acting on her instructions, Owen ambushed her husband while she went out dancing with friends, and forced him to drive to a remote area. Then he marched him into the woods and stabbed him multiple times, prosecutors said. Owen and Gissendaner then met up and set fire to the dead man's car in an attempted cover-up, and both initially denied involvement, but Owen eventually confessed and testified against his former girlfriend. Her lawyers challenged the constitutionality of her sentence as disproportionate, given that she wasn't there when Owen killed her husband, and yet Owen will eventually be eligible for parole. But Georgia's Supreme Court voted 5-2 Monday to deny her motion, citing Owen's testimony that she pushed for murder rather than divorce so that she could get her husband's insurance money
It is said that Gissendaner "eventually took responsibility" and, today - her clemency application argues - she has been thoroughly "rehabilitated." But, her lawyers contest that many corrections employees are not willing to provide "overwhelmingly positive testimony" for fear that, if they speak up, there will be "retaliation." Says the AP:
Her clemency petition already included testimonials from dozens of spiritual advisers, inmates and prison staff who described a seriously damaged woman transformed through faith behind bars. She has shown remorse and provided hope to struggling inmates while helping guards maintain control, they said. "The spiritual transformation and depth of faith that Ms. Gissendaner demonstrates and practices is a deep and sincere expression of a personal relationship with God," Prison chaplain Susan Bishop wrote. 
Her former husband's parents and sister say they want the execution to go forward. See full story here.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

16 Percent of Federal Prison Population to Obama: Set Us Free!

On Thursday (here) we noted the record number of clemency applications that have been filed with the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

Now, the Washington Post reports that more than 35,000 inmates - or 16 percent of the federal prison population - have applied for commutations of sentence! The Post suggests this "massive influx of applications" and "a complicated review process" have "slowed" the Obama administration’s "highly touted initiative to grant clemency to nonviolent offender." But, there has never been anything swift about the Obama administration when it comes to executive clemency.

The Post reports that - upon urging by the Department of Justice - applications "are now being reviewed by more than 1,000 attorneys at 323 law firms and organizations nationwide." The idea is that this pro-bono effort will result in properly filed applications by the most worth applicants. Ideally,
Candidates for clemency under the new Justice Department criteria, released in the spring, must have served at least 10 years of their sentence, have no significant criminal history and no connection to gangs, cartels or organized crime. Applicants also must be inmates who probably would have received a “substantially lower sentence” if convicted of the same offense today. 
To date, the Clemency Project — which includes Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Bar Association and Reimer’s association of criminal defense attorneys — has sent only 14 petitions to Office of the Pardon Attorney.

Mark Osler, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota says there are, indeed, "thousands" of inmates worthy of clemency. He also says it would be an "injustice" if the Obama administration were to end "with them in prison." Osler says, "This is one of the major justice issues of our time.” See story here.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Obama: Clemency Applications Soar!

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Criminal Disfranchisement in the U.S.

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Source: WUWF, Pensacola, Florida.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oregon: Commutation of Sentence

The Statesman's Journal reports that among resigning Democratic governor John Kitzhaber's last official acts, was a granting of a commutation of sentence. The recipient was one Sang Dao, convicted of attempted murder, unlawful use of a weapon and second-degree assault, in 2008. Authorities say:
... in February 2007, when Dao was 17, he and a friend shot at a car at Northeast 78th Avenue and Oregon Street in Portland. Three adults and a baby were in the car, but no one was hit. Then a few months later, in April 2007, Dao and his friend again were responsible for firing shots outside Kellogg Middle School at Southeast 70th Avenue and Franklin Street. One man was wounded in the leg.
It is also reported that Dao filed a formal request for commutation, but withdrew it the day that the Governor announced that he would resign.

A "spokeswoman" said the Governor gave no details or explanations for the commutation - which makes the job of "spokeswoman" a lot less complex. Dao was sentenced to join almost 15,000 other in the State's prisons for twelve and a half years. But the commutation states that service of said sentence would "not serve the best interests of the State of Oregon or of Sang Dao." observes that Dao's request had "enormous support from prosecutors, police, a judge, two of Dao's victims and correctional staff who've applauded Dao's remarkable transformation." See story here.

Pennsylvania: A Contested Reprieve

Reuters reports that a prosecutor has gone to court "to try to block Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's temporary reprieve of a convicted murderer who is set to be executed on March 4." Indeed, the prosecutor says, Governor Wolf's reprieve of Terrance Williams "is unconstitutional, illegal and should be declared null and void." Reuters reports:
In his petition filed on Wednesday, the prosecutor said Pennsylvania law restricts pardon-granting power to the Board of Pardons. "Unlike some states, Pennsylvania does not grant the governor at-will power to issue a moratorium or pardon or commute any sentence of death or punishment," the prosecutor said in a statement. By granting a reprieve, the governor effectively negated "a death sentence authorized by the General Assembly, imposed by a jury, and subject to exhaustive judicial review over a period of decades," the prosecutor said in his petition. "The constitutional role of the Governor is to execute the law, not sabotage it," he said in the petition.part of the governor's recent moratorium on the death penalty. 
Williams was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder. At the time of the offense, he was 18 years old. The Governor's office responds by noting: "Pursuant to Article 4, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Governor Wolf has the power to grant reprieves" - which sounds like a home run to us! See full story here.

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