Saturday, April 18, 2015

Michigan: The Politics of Parole, Pardon

Gov. Rick Snyder
Brian Dickerson of Detroit Free Press does some very fine reporting on a case we discussed last month - Governor Rick Snyder's pardon of Alan Gocha, a recent offender, who also happened to be a former political appointee and acquaintance. The story of the pardon was further colorized by the fact that Snyder is fairly stingy with pardons, the offense was committed not very long ago and the application was supported by "connected" persons. See our previous coverage and commentary here.

Governer Snyder, at first, attempted to appear "puzzled" that anyone would care about such a thing but, as Dickerson notes, he also argued Gocha "never contributed" to his campaign and did not have "any financial connection at all," He also emphasized the pardon was signed on the recommendation of the Michigan Parole Board.

Dickerson's complaint is that the Governor could have been more "candid." He could have, for example,
... pointed out, for instance, that while neither Gocha nor Bhargava have contributed directly to Snyder's campaigns, both men have donated generously to third-party organizations that helped bankroll Snyder's re-election. 
In his own communications with the Associated Press on this story, the Editor of this blog wondered who the members of the Board were, and how they got there. Dickerson, however, did the leg work and found:
... each of the 10 parole board members who recommended a pardon for Gocha were political appointees installed in 2011, after Snyder abolished the existing parole board (then known as the Parole and Commutation Board) and dismissed all 15 of its members. (Just three of the 15 sit on the reorganized Parole Board.) 
A state Court of Claims dismissed a lawsuit filed by six members Snyder dismissed before their terms of office had expired. Dickerson notes an Ingham County Circuit Court "issued a summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, ruling that although Snyder had the authority to abolish their positions, he was bound to honor their $89,000-a-year employment contracts until they expired."  But Republican legislators transferred "jurisdiction over lawsuits against the executive branch to a new Court of Claims appointed by the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court" and the decision was reversed. Says Dickerson:
The point is not that a gaggle of friendly judges have abetted Snyder's effort to hijack a historically independent parole board, but that the board has always (or, at least in recent decades) been a political instrument beholden to whomever happens to be governor. Granholm put an exclamation point on that authority in her second term when she issued an executive order moving the appointment of parole board members from the Department of Corrections (whose director serves at the governor's pleasure) to the governor's office. Snyder's subsequent executive order reduced the parole board to its previous size and returned responsibility for appointing its members to his DOC director. But it's foolish to suggest that the director, or the parole board members he appoints, are either ignorant of, or insensitive to, the current governor's druthers when they refuse a controversial application for parole or recommend the pardon of a gubernatorial friend. 
The piece ends by noting "Gocha's pardon is one of just 11 Snyder has granted after reviewing 750 applications." See full story here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Guest: Stephen Arrington, Part 3

I loved teaching at the College of Oceaneering in Los Angeles Harbor. Surprisingly, Terminal Island Prison was just a mile away, which made me very uncomfortable. Inmate dreams stalked my sleep leading to many restless nights. I was living in a truck that I called Revelstoke, which had been my home in Hawaii. I parked it in a Mexican family’s driveway just a few blocks from the school. I was socially wounded spending most of my evenings alone. On weekends, I surfed and hung out at the beach. I daydreamed a lot about talking at schools, but was too nervous to approach a principal as a convicted felon. A year passed as I slowly healed.

Medic, College of Oceaneering
In the Navy, I had been a hyperbaric chamber supervisor and an EMTD (Emergency Medical Technician Diver), which is why they made me the school medic at the College of Oceaneering. I was teaching in the classroom when the door was abruptly thrown open and a student yelled, “Mr. Arrington, get to the harbor. Chris is drowning!” I grabbed my first aid kit and ran.

Chris was trapped underwater at a depth of 55 feet. Later, I would later learn that he had been cheating on a project, which made it unstable. A 300 lb pontoon had fallen on him. It knocked his helmet off his head and drove him facedown into the cold mud. On the diving barge, they heard him scream over the intercom followed by the sound of water filling his helmet, and then it went silent. The Time Keeper Recorder logged the exact time of the incident. Chris was trapped underwater, without air, for over 8½ minutes. That meant he was dead!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Guest: Stephen Arrington, Part 2

Stephen Arrington
Everyone needs hope was the theme of my first article for Professor Ruckman. However, hope is conditional upon our moral compass and the level of truth we hold sacred as a foundation to our character. No one wakes up one morning and determines that they are going to become a felon and live most of their lives in prison. The felonious path begins with a single step—out of the light and into the darkness.

I became addicted to marijuana in Hawaii. One of my surfer friends asked me to help him sell a small amount of weed. I refused saying I didn’t want to be a drug dealer like him. “I’m not a drug dealer,” he argued. “I don’t sell drugs, just marijuana and only to my friends. I’m helping out my friends.”

The first person a liar lies to is himself. He (or she) has to convince themselves it is okay to tell the lie and, of course, the next step is to live the lie. Two months later, I was arrested by military police for selling marijuana. Not only did it destroy a 14-year naval career that I loved as a bomb disposal frogman, it brought me to the attention of a man who would hasten my criminal descent.

I had known Morgan Hetrick seven years earlier as a successful inventor in the aviation business. When I left the Navy under a cloud of shame he reappeared into my life with an incredible offer. He wanted to hire me as a pilot and right-hand man. It convinced me to drop my addiction to marijuana. This was a new chance and I wasn’t going to mess it up. But then I noticed that the man I once looked up to had changed. Corruption had slipped into his life. Yet, I still chose to work for him. In life, when are not willing to face the truth, then we must make excuses. Since there is no excuse for doing wrong, then naturally our excuses become lies.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Huff Post on Hillary Clinton

At Huffington Post, Sheldon Filger provides three reasons not to celebrate Hillary Clinton's quest for presidency. For number 2, he writes:
Hillary Clinton was a full partner with her husband in unethical conduct during the presidency of Bill Clinton. A prime example is what happened at the very end of the Clinton presidency, when a series of questionable presidential pardons were granted that were so outrageously incongruent, the whole episode came to be known as "Pardongate." Among the rogues gallery of pardon recipients courtesy of President Clinton were four convicted swindlers from the town of New Square in Rockland County, New York. The largely Hassidic community of New Square voted for Hillary Clinton in her 2000 senatorial campaign in overwhelming numbers, at the behest of community leaders. Shortly after her successful senate campaign, Hillary Clinton joined her husband for a private White House meeting with supporters of the convicted New Town swindlers. 
Though she has never revealed what was discussed -- or promised -- during the closed door meeting, Hillary Clinton maintained that she had no prior knowledge of her husband's intentions on granting presidential pardons to the four swindlers from New Town. However, the feeling of disgust that arose in the wake of Pardongate became pervasive and non-partisan. Then a liberal columnist for the New York Times, Bob Herbert wrote in a column published on February 26, 2000:
You can't lead a nation if you are shamed of the leadership of your party. The Clintons are a terminally unethical and vulgar couple, and they've betrayed everyone who has ever believed in them.
See full editorial here.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Guest: Stephen Arrington, Part 1

My name is Stephen Lee Arrington and I am an ex-felon, who believes that a pardon should be earned. My criminal mistake cost society a lot on many levels. As such, I have an obligation to pay back to the country that I love for what I have taken. If a pardon is in my future, I want it to be cheerfully given—a celebration of forgiveness well earned.

I was arrested in 1982 as a defendant in the John Z. DeLorean case. I had copiloted a plane from Colombia to California loaded with over 600 lbs of cocaine. It was called the Drug Trial of the Century, which is why the prosecutor was demanding that I get the maximum sentence of 45 years in prison. As I stood before the judge 33 years ago, I could not imagine that the prosecutor, James Walsh, would later become my friend and that he would write the introduction to my autobiography, extreme. He said that every youth in America should read that work. You see, it is a book about hope.

I pled guilty because I was guilty. Judge Takasugi noted that I had been coerced into flying the plane under threat of a gun by the Medellin Cartel, yet it was my lack of a moral compass that placed me in that position. Later, the Judge would commute my sentence to three years and then became my main sponsor for a Presidential Pardon.

Like I said, my story is about hope, which is why P.S. Ruckman Jr. invited me to write a short series of articles for the Pardon Power Blog. I draw my material from personal experience and from having spoken at over 3,000 public school assemblies, at dozens of adult and youth lockups, for youth organizations, churches, police departments, colleges, and universities. I talk about choices. Every day we make choices that will determine what path we walk.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Former U.S. Pardon Attorney on Clemency 2014

It was recently reported that 16 percent of the federal prison population (about 35,000) have expressed interest in receiving commutations of sentence from President Obama (see post here). At a symposium on the future of pardons held, today, at the University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota), Amy Baron-Evans, resource counsel for the Federal Public and Community Defenders, guessed that about 10,000 such applicants might meet the guidelines for commutations recently announced by the Deputy Attorney General (see post here).

Former U.S. Pardon Attorney, Margaret Colgate Love, suggested, however, that, when all is said and done, President Obama may very well grant a mere 2-300 commutations of sentence. Love further argued that Clemency Project 2014 which has resulted in the "outsourcing" of critical decision making has resulted in a process that is even more "random" and "less efficient" than the current process for clemency. In other comments, Love expressed concern that Clemency 2014 adequately meets reasonable standards re "fairness" and "accountability."

A 14-Year Application Process (Repost)

Kathy Kemp, Florida State University
Political scientists like to joke (angrily) about the Kathy Kemp Rule, under which one  sends a birthday card to one's manuscript (sarcastically, of course) if it sits under the review of a journal editor for more than a year. Doing so also earns one 65 points in Rotisserie Political Science!

It appears Lynn Marie Stanek's application for federal executive clemency actually achieved "teen" status under the Kathy Kemp Rule! Yes, Stanek applied for federal executive clemency on September 29, 1998 ... and 26 years after her conviction ... she received a presidential pardon.

What was her application doing for over 14 years? Well, as best as we can tell, it traveled as follows:

History of a 14-Year Clemency Application
Application Sent to:
Date
Office of the Pardon Attorney
9/29/1998
U.S. Probation Office
10/16/1998
Federal Bureau of Investigation
8/17/1999
U.S. Attorney
3/30/2000
Judge
9/19/2000
Deputy Attorney General
11/2/2001
Office Deputy Attorney General
12/11/2003
White House
4/28/2004
Office of the Pardon Attorney (return)
10/4/2005
(Redacted Recipient)
7/2/2008
Office Deputy Attorney General
11/24/2008
Office of the Pardon Attorney (return)
12/17/2008
Office Deputy Attorney General
12/30/2008
White House
12/31/2008
Office Deputy Attorney General
5/22/2009
Office of the Pardon Attorney (return)
3/1/2010
Office Deputy Attorney General
3/5/2010
White House
6/22/2010
Pardon Granted
3/1/2013

Monday, April 6, 2015

Post Gazette on Obama Denials

The Editorial Board of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette writes:
Prior to last week, President Barack Obama had granted only 21 commutations and 64 pardons for federal crimes, making him the “least merciful” of modern presidents when it comes to such petitions. He has considered and denied 782 clemency petitions to date.
We are not sure how anyone could reach such a conclusion. Obama has actually denied 1,629 pardon applications and 7,378 applications for commutations of sentence - for a total of 9,000 plus denials. 782? Where on earth does that come from?

We reached out to the Gazette, as a good Samaritan, but it seems to want to stick with what it has written. Have an explanation? Send it our way! We're all ears. See editorial here.

UPDATE: The error seems to have originated with USAToday, which has corrected the error here

WJS on Scooter Libby

Scooter Libby
The Wall Street Journal opines that, "one of George W. Bush’s worst decisions was failing to pardon Lewis “Scooter” Libby before he left the White House."

The Journal, of course, "urged" such a pardon because the perjury case against Libby "was always flimsy, hanging on uncertain memories from years earlier about noncriminal behavior." The Journal was also concerned that Bush took "the media bait" to appoint "an unsupervised special prosecutor." Having done that:
Attorney General John Ashcroft abdicated his duty and recused himself. That left the choice of prosecutor to Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey (now President Obama’s FBI director), who picked Mr. Fitzgerald, his old prosecutorial pal and godfather to one of his children. Mr. Fitzgerald became a Javert who wanted to get Vice President Dick Cheney for something, and he zeroed in on Mr. Libby, the Veep’s chief of staff, as his vehicle. 
Now comes a book by Judith Miller which reports Fitzgerald told Mr. Libby’s lawyer twice that he would drop all charges against him if he turned state’s evidence on Mr. Cheney. Unfortunately, for Libby, "he had no evidence to trade." So, says the Journal, Fitzgerald "set out to ruin Mr. Libby."

The Journal also believes the Washington, D.C., jury "was stacked with Democrats during the height of anti-Iraq war fever" and Judge Reggie Walton "contributed to the injustice" by barring testimony from experts re memory. In the Journal's view, was "all too typical of today’s prosecutors who want to make a name for themselves, or are out for a political score."

Mimicking the dramatic charges of Dick Cheney, the Journal argues Bush left him "behind on the battlefield" and this "betrayal was a failure of presidential character." So, says the Journal, "the next Republican President should learn from that betrayal" and "pardon Mr. Libby in his first week in office." See editorial here.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Osler on Mercy

Mark Osler
Prof. Mark Osler notes President Obama's recent grant of 22 commutations of sentence was a "remarkable event." But, he adds:
It befits the morality of our nation that the pardon power be used. The framers of the Constitution intended it, and it is the rare moral system, religious or not, that shuts out any access to mercy. In a Christian-majority nation, it should matter to many that Jesus granted clemency (to the woman about to be stoned) and was wrongfully denied it (by Pilate). 
To which we say, "Amen." See full editorial here.

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

California: 83 Pardons

It is reported that Gov. Jerry Brown has granted pardons to 83 people, each having been out of prison for at least 10 years. The recipients are also described as persons who have led "productive" lives and have "no new criminal convictions." It is also reported that most of the recipients "had been convicted of drug and robbery cases. See story here.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Obama: Watch List '15

President Obama has granted so few pardons and commutations of sentence, we haven't much thought of anticipating individual pardons. But that doesn't mean the subject is not on the minds of others. And, with a recent round of commutations and the end of the term approaching, it is probably only a matter of time before the media engages in prognostication with reckless abandon. Interested readers may see our explanation of our own approach to this exercise here.

Watch List: Here are some individuals who have 1) expressed interest in clemency 2) been mentioned in media outlets as deserving clemency or 3) are being supported for clemency through assorted "campaigns":

Stephen Lee Arrington (cocaine trafficking) released
- ACORN (voter fraud)
- Weldon Angelos (marijuana)
- Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl(desertion)
- Jim Black (corruption) released
Barry Bonds (obstruction of justice) 
- Hillary Clinton (not charged)
- Randall "Duke" Cunningham (bribery, tax law violations) released
- Edwin Edwards (racketeering) released
- Jerry Eversole (lying to FBI)
- Bobby Ferguson (racketeering, extortion, bribery)
- Katie Hall (mail fraud) deceased
- Dan Hanks (quite the rap sheet!)
- Ron Isley (tax evasion) released
- William Jefferson (bribery, corruption)
- Jesse Jackson, Jr. (illegal use of campaign funds) released
- Sandi Jackson (plea)
- Jack Johnson (violation of Mann Act) deceased
- Marion Jones (steroids) released
- Kwame Kilpatrick - (racketeering, extortion and bribery)
- John Walker Lindh (terrorism)
- Bradley Manning (espionage)
Chris McNair (bribery) released
- Michael Milken (junk bond king)
- Leonard Peltier (double murder)
- O. Henry (embezzlement) deceased
- General David Petraeus (unauthorized sharing of classified information)
- Jonathan Pollard (spying)  
- Tony Rezko (corruption) a "spokesman" has said it will not happen
- George Ryan (corruption) released 
- Michael G. Santos (cocaine distribution) released
- Richard Scrushy (bribery) released
- Don Siegelman (trading favors for contributions)
- Wesley Snipes (income tax evasion) released
- Edward Snowden
- Martha Stewart (conspiracy) released
- Michael Vick (conspiracy to operate interstate dog fighting ring) released
- Mark E. Whitacre (wire fraud, tax fraud, and money laundering) released

- Chris Williams (drugs)
- Jeri Wright (money laundering)

See anyone missing? Let us know. Make your case! We might very well add them! Incidentally, we are not keeping score here. But, in the past, the following people appearing on our "Watch List" have received pardons or commutations: Ignacio Ramos, Jose CompeanCharlie Winters, John Forte, Lawrence Hutchins.

New Jersey: Pardon!

myCentralJersey.com reports Republican Gov. Chris Christie "has pardoned a Philadelphia woman facing gun charges and jail time after a traffic stop in New Jersey in 2013." It notes:
Shaneen Allen was arrested in October 2013 in Hamilton Township after telling a state trooper she had a handgun and a concealed-carry permit. New Jersey did not recognize the Pennsylvania permit, and she was arrested and charged under its strict gun laws. 
The pardon is said to have attracted "quick praise" from the National Rifle Association and Christie says that he is considering changing the state’s gun laws. Interestingly, he also notes that, if the Democratic Legislature will not cooperate in that enterprise,
.... He said he’ll instead do what he is legally allowed to do, such as pardons when he thinks they’re warranted. 
See story here.

Illinois: 2 Pardons

WNIJ / WNIU reports Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner "has granted two and denied 57 clemency petitions." These are the first pardons of the newly elected Republican Governor's administration. it is also reported that Rauner "inherited nearly 3,000 petitions" from previous governor Patt Quinn (D). More interestingly Rauner claims to have "developed a process to review clemency petitions on a regular basis."  See story here.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

W. Bush as a Clemency Benchmark? Wha ?!?!

Better than Bush? I would hope!
Neil Eggleston is an "Assistant to the President and Counsel to the President." When President Obama granted his 43rd commutation of sentence this week, Eggleston wrote, on the White House blog:
To put President Obama’s actions in context, President George W. Bush commuted 11 sentences in his eight years in office.
We are quite mystified as to why all of the very many people who are commenting on presidential pardons right now have managed to refrain from laughter, or painful groaning. Or, maybe they have all managed to just overlook this most bizarre example of stumbling bumbling PR work.

Bush's clemency record was among the very worst in history. If he is the benchmark for the Obama administration, woe be unto us! Only one president granted fewer commutations of sentence than George W. Bush since 1885 (one hundred and thirty years ago) and that was ... George H.W. Bush!

Is it really possible Eggleston is not aware of this?

The White House sees W. as the place to go for context? Really?

Obama might as well brag about being less controversial than Nixon, or more physically fit than Taft!

Data Lab: Weak on Data (and History)

Leah Libresco (using fiscal year data from the Department of Justice), at Five-Thirty Eight reminds readers of the well known fact that most presidents have granted the largest number of pardons in the fourth and final years of their terms. She then writes:
In addition to backloading pardons generally, presidents often delay their most controversial pardons until the very end of their last term, as Bill Clinton did when he pardoned Marc Rich.
But provides no data on that fun point. And with good reason. There is very little evidence to support that proposition, save Bill Clinton mania and/or laser like focus on the end of one's nose.

Pardon Power score: Gong!

Obama's 64 Pardons and 43 Commutations in Context

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

The Conservative Case for the Pardon Power (Repost)

Right On Crime (added to our blog listing) is a new site which claims to focus on "Conservative" views of the criminal justice system. In particular, it takes an interest in reducing crime, reducing the costs of criminal justice, reforming past offenders, restoring victims and protecting communities. In its Statement of Principles, the site notes that "Conservatives are known for being tough on crime," but argues it is also vital to achieve "a cost-effective system that protects citizens, restores victims, and reforms wrongdoers." In addition:
The corrections system should emphasize public safety, personal responsibility, work, restitution, community service, and treatment—both in probation and parole, which supervise most offenders, and in prisons. An ideal criminal justice system works to reform amenable offenders who will return to society through harnessing the power of families, charities, faith-based groups, and communities.
With these very concerns (and others) in mind, here are some reasons why Conservatives should favor well-articulated clemency policies which 1) regularize the process and minimize the tendency toward last-minute blitzes 2) restore a proper balance between the branches of government 3) address the specific concerns of Conservatives and 4) re-educate the American public as to the significance of the pardon power:

Reason 1: The pardon power is explicitly vested in the President of the United States by Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. It is not derived from a so-called "elastic clause" or inferred from penumbras emanating from the Bill of Rights. The pardon power is not the result of a "test" imposed by judicial fiat, or a goal-oriented construction of the traditions and conscience of the people, or tortured divination of what is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. It is a power explicitly granted and as firmly entrenched in the Constitution as the provisions creating a House and Senate and the federal judiciary.

University of St. Thomas Symposium

Reviewing Clemency in a Time of Change
University of St. Thomas School of Law
April 10, 2015

8:30-8:40 opening remarks

8:40-9:05 Amy Baron-Evans “The Impact of President Obama's Clemency Initiative on the Politics of Sentencing Reform”

9:05-9:30 Professor P.S. Ruckman, Jr. “Reinstitutionalizing the Pardon Power”

9:30-9:55 Professor Adam Stevenson “Clinical Clemency: The Perils and Successes of Scaling Commutation Mountain with Student Guides”

9:55-10:20 Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds “#BlackLivesMatter: Reimagining the Pardon Power as a Tool for Racial Justice”

* * * Break until 10:30

10:30-10:55 Representative Keith Ellison “The New Left-Right Alliance on Criminal Justice Reform”

10:55-11:20 Margaret Love “Beccaria v. Hamilton -- The Enlightenment Debate Over the Role of Clemency in the Justice System and Why It Matters Today”

11:20-11:45 Professor Steven Chanenson “The Clemency Curmudgeon”

Obama's Grants (and Denials)

With this week's granting of 22 commutations of sentence, President Obama remains the 7th most merciless president in history. In addition, these grants say little about the massive, record-breaking, denial of applications that has been going on for the past six years

Click on Image Above to Enlarge

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