Wednesday, August 26, 2015

To Our Friends in Media / Journalism

I know, admire and respect so many people in media, print and visual, local and national. Today's news makes me so sad, for all of them. Wish so much that I could do something to make everything all better. Cruelty never fails to baffle.

The warmest thoughts and very best, most sincere prayers for you all.

- P.S. Ruckman, Jr.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Florida: Call for Pardon

Michael Giles
It is reported that "a major Republican donor" is asking Gov. Rick Scott to grant clemency to one Michael Giles
" ... a military veteran who was 26 in February 2010 when he became involved in a brawl outside a nightclub in Tallahassee. His supporters say he fired two shots after being pushed to the ground and only shot in self defense. But he was found guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm and sentenced to 25 years in prison, the minimum allowable under Florida’s 10-20-Life mandatory minimum sentencing law."
The donor is one Daniel Loeb, a billionaire  hedge fund manager, who is also described (in e-mails uncovered by the Orlando Sentinel) as "one of [the Republican Governor's Association’s] largest contributor[s]," a Florida resident that is "quite passionate about criminal justice reform.”

It is noted that the Giles case:
... has become a rallying point for groups looking to soften Florida’s mandatory minimum laws, but also for African-American civil rights groups hoping to change the state’s Stand Your Ground laws. Giles is black but did not use the Stand Your Ground defense in his trial. Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, publicly called for Scott to pardon Giles in March. 
See full story here.

Montana: The Case of Barry Beach, Again

Barry Beach
Bob Brown, a Republican, former Montana Secretary of State and Montana state Senate president and Jim Elliott, a Democrat, who is former chair of the Montana Democratic Party and Montana state senator have penned an editorial calling on the Governor to pardon Barry Beach. They summarize the case as follows:

In 1983, the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's office in Louisiana got Beach to confess to the 1979 murder of 17-year old classmate Kimberly Nees. Beach also "confessed" to committing three Louisiana murders.

But Beach has argued that the confessions were coerced. Further, note Brown and Elliott:
... Those confessions were dropped when it was revealed that Beach was not even in Louisiana when the murders took place. Beach was returned to Montana, charged with Nees’ murder, and convicted on the basis of this confession, even though the details of the confession were grossly inconsistent with the actual events at the murder scene. In addition, crime scene evidence that could have exonerated Beach was held inadmissible because the evidence room had been broken into. Nonetheless, Beach was convicted and sentenced to 100 years in prison without parole. 
In 2005, a motion was granted to get DNA testing done on "a pubic hair, a bloody towel, and several other items from the crime scene" but the State of Montana "lost" all of the evidence.

In 2011, Fergus County District Judge E. Wayne Phillips concluded there was "clear and convincing evidence" sufficient to find Beach not guilty so Beach was granted a new trial. However, that decision was overruled by a 4-3 decision of the Montana Supreme Court two years later.

In 2014, Montana's Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected an application by Beach despite support from Gov. Steve Bullock, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, and former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns.

In 2015, the State Legislature voted 88-12 in the House and 50-0 in the Senate "to amend the law to allow [the] governor to directly consider clemency applications in a way similar to most other governors." Supporters hope this will result in clemency. See still editorial here.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Post-Gazette: Call for Pardon

In the 1960s, Sala Udin worked to register black voters in the South. The Post-Gazette notes that, after decades of public life in Pittsburgh, he "is known for fighting racial discrimination, serving in city council for 10 years, co-founding the New Horizons Theater and the House of the Crossroads drug treatment program, and championing the August Wilson Center.

But he is also known as a man convicted of carrying an unloaded, unlicensed handgun, robbery, receiving stolen goods, illegal transporting firearms and untaxed distilled spirits. Udin was eventually given a five-year sentence in federal prison, but was paroled after only seven months.

The state convictions were pardoned by the governor, in 2007 (after Udin submitted an application in 2004). In 2012, Udin submitted a pardon application to President Obama. The Gazette supports the federal application, but recognizes it is a "long shot" because of Obama's "reluctance to dispense clemency."


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Obama's "Revamped" Clemency Process

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Problem, in a Nutshell

In a recent editorial for CNN, the Editor of this blog called on President Obama to
... grant a steady stream of individual pardons and commutations of sentence, every month, just like most presidents have done, throughout most of our nation's history.
How does the President compare on this front? A four-year presidential term covers all, or part, of 49 months. Below, the reader can see the number of months where at least one person was granted clemency over the last 20 presidential terms.

Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge
If the chart went further back in time (to the left), almost every administration would look like that of President Truman's first complete term. Every month of the terms featured at least one pardon or commutation of sentence - thus, FDR's second term was freakishly low, by historical standards, to that point. Pardons and commutations of sentence were not so much "incidents" as they were a regular feature of a system of checks and balances where the clear expectation was that the president would be an active participant in the approximation of justice.

The Eisenhower administration was the first where clemency became something else, a less than part time interest. What happened in the Eisenhower administration that led to a decrease in the importance of / need for pardoning? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Of course, crimes and convictions are a regular occurrence. The prison population has steadily risen for many years. A regular flow of persons complete sentences (in and out of prison), rehabilitate and attempt to integrate back into society, get jobs, become productive citizens. What doesn't happen with regularity? While ALL of this goes on, the pardon power sits on the side of the road, almost irrelevant, and, arguably, at a time when it should be more relevant than ever!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Sen. Jack Martins: All Thunder and No Lightning

Sen. Jack Martins
New York State Senator Jack Martins (R-7th District) claims that he "generally" tries to "steer clear of Washington D.C. politics" because it is a "strenuous enough task" for him to work on the issues that directly impact his constituents. In a recent "letter" re federal executive clemency, he demonstrates that, in his own case, it is a wise policy indeed.

Martins extravagantly claims President Obama's "pardons go to the undeserving." Further into the piece, he seems to understand that pardons and commutations of sentence are not the same thing, but, to a politician with a big hammer, everything is nails.

Without naming anyone, or presenting any data, Martins claims that he "checked the backgrounds" of the individuals whose sentences were recently commuted by the President. Without naming anyone, or presenting any data, he found "they had extensive rap sheets, peppered with former arrests" and were not "decent fellows." Without naming anyone, or presenting any data, he concluded they were "mostly" career criminals and "almost all" had been charged with numerous crimes simultaneously. Sometimes it is difficult to discern the difference between an honest, rigorous investigation, and the desire to write a kind of Hallmark greeting card from Hell.

Martins found a retired DEA agent involved in "some" of the cases (What? 1? 2?) who was critical of the President's decisions. One wonders how he could not find what the Office of the Pardon Attorney had to say, or the Deputy Attorney General. What did the sentencing judges say? I mean Martins may want everyone he despises in prison for life, regardless of such nuances like whether or not the offenses for which they were convicted were violent, or non-violent, but I just can't think of a single reason in this world why Martins' opinion should weigh one ounce more than the opinions of the judges who are more familiar with the cases then he will ever be.

Amazingly, Martins expresses his opinion on this topic, seemingly oblivious that both parties in both chambers of Congress has turned their backs on the old sentencing laws. The consensus was that those laws were ineffective, if not patently unfair. We wonder what Martins thinks. Was the old 100-1 sentencing disparity effective? fair? Is the war on drugs working? Are life-time sentences appropriate for non-violent offenses? What about rehabilitation? Does Martins think that ever happens? Was there any evidence of that? Martins has probably written more on this topic without addressing any of the basic, underlying substantive issues than anyone in recent memory.

Finally, and perhaps most disturbingly, Martins, desperately attempts to attach formal, legal responsibility for violence (something the judges and juries did not do) to anyone convicted of a drug offense. Conservatives should get on their knees every day of their lives and thank God Almighty that the legal system does not define "violence" in an indirect, accordion-like manner that suits the emotional whims of politicians like Martins. In a recitation of the potential ills accompanying drugs (which no one would deny), he says very little that could not be matched - with equally horrible scenarios - related to alcohol, cigarettes, automobiles, cell phones ... not to mention guns.

Mr. Martins, no need to burn down the house to roast the pig. See full train wreck here.

The Editor, at CNN

P.S. Ruckman, Jr., the Editor of the Pardon Power Blog, has a piece at CNN today. 

Readers are invited to read it in its entirety here

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Arkansas: 7 Pardons

THV 11 (CBS) reports Governor Asa Hutchinson intends to pardon 7 individuals. Per usual:
The applicants intended for pardons have completed all jail time, fulfilled all parole and probationary requirements and paid all fines related to their sentences. There is a 30-day waiting period to receive public feedback on the notices before final action is taken. 
Among the offenses pardoned were: Battery 3rd Degree (A Misdemeanor) and Delivery of Cocaine, three counts (Y Felony), 1992 and 1995; Possession of a Controlled Substance, Methamphetamine, two counts (C Felony), 2002; Possession of a Controlled Substance, Methamphetamine, two counts (C Felony), 2002; Possession of a Controlled Substance (C Felony), 2002; Manufacture Marijuana (C Felony) and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (C Felony), 1994; Residential Burglary (B Felony) and Theft of Property (B Felony), 2000; Possession of Methamphetamine (C Felony) and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia with Intent to Use (C Felony), 2004.

There were no law-enforcement objections to any of these applications.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

New Jersey: Christie to Usurp Legislature, Pardon "Classes" of Persons

As a presidential candidate, Thomas Jefferson promised to pardon everyone who sat in prisons because they convicted the Alien Sedition Acts of the Adams administration. We don't know if there were commentators accusing him of usurping the legislature and unconstitutionally considering clemency for "classes" of persons. Then again, back then, people were a lot smarter, when it came to pardons, than they appear to be today.

Now comes New Jersey governor Chris Christie who says he will pardon several out-of-staters who were legally permitted to carry their firearms in their home states, but were arrested in New Jersey under the State's "tough" gun laws.

NJ.com reports:
Elizabeth J. Griffith, of Daytona Beach, Fla., was arrested by U.S. Park Police on July 14 during a visit to Liberty State Park in Jersey City and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. She could face a ten year prison sentence because her Florida state-issued permit to carry a handgun is not recognized by New Jersey. 
Christie supports a firearm permit reciprocity law that would honor out-of-state gun carry permits, but says that he does not expect the Democratic-controlled legislature to cooperate. Says he:
"I think the law is wrong ... We need to be smarter about the way we do this ... this is just not the right way to do these things ... I don't know why the Legislature won't change something like this ... I can do what I can do during the intervening time, which is if I think someone's been treated unjustly, we're gonna use the pardon and the clemency authority the governor has under the constitution, as we've done with Steffon Josey-Davis, and Brian Aitken and Shaneen Allen, and we'll continue to do with others going forward if circumstances are appropriate."
This is different from President Obama commuting the prison sentences of some persons convicted under outdated sentencing laws which both parties in both chamber of Congress have deemed ineffective and unfair ... how ??? See story here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

John Oliver on Mandatory Minimums


Morison: Clemency Rhetoric v. Reality

Sam Morison
At The Hill, Sam Morison - a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C., and former staff attorney in the DOJ's Office of the Pardon Attorney addresses the "deep concern" of Rep. Bob Goodlatte and 18 other Republicans that President Obama is using the pardon power "to benefit specific classes of offenders, or for political purposes” who were "duly convicted in a court of law.” Goodlatte and his pals assert that this is “plainly unconstitutional.”

Morison, however, notes this claim is "illiterate" - at best - since "throughout American history, presidents have granted executive clemency to 'specific classes of offenders' on dozens of occasions, from George Washington’s pardon of the Whiskey Rebels in 1795 to George H.W. Bush’s pardon of the Iran-Contra defendants in 1992."

More relevant to Obama's recent commutations of 46 drug law offenders, Morison adds:
... in the early 1960s, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson commuted the sentences of several hundred prisoners serving mandatory minimum sentences under the Narcotics Control Act of 1956, without objection by Congress. 
The less dramatic, and far more reaction to Obama's commutations would be guided by this understanding:
...Under our tripartite system of government, an act of executive clemency in no sense “usurps” legislative or judicial authority.. it “is a part of the Constitutional scheme. When granted it is the determination of the ultimate [executive] authority that the public welfare will be better served by inflicting less than what the judgment fixed.” ... Indeed, that was the Framers’ point in giving the power to the President in the first place, to act as a check on the other branches.  
Morison concludes there is "no reason to doubt" President Obama "can grant clemency because of his own policy judgment about a particular law."  Indeed, "the President’s power is beyond dispute." See full editorial here.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Commutations for "Classes of Persons"

If you follow the news, you know one exceptionally ignorant response to President Obama's recent commutations of sentence has been to claim - with zero evidence - that the pardon power was given to the president of the United States to be exercised in individual cases, and not with respect to "classes of offenders." Amnesties (which identify classes of offenders) are, of course, a great American tradition dating back to George Washington. One has to really work hard not to be aware of that.

A variation of the "argument" is to say, yes, amnesties are acceptable, and a steady feature of our history BUT they should only be used in exceptional circumstances, like the Civil War, World War I or World War II. This approach is at least less offensive to the senses. Many amnesties that have originated from the executive branch have focused on draft evasion and violation of various war time laws.

Notably, presidents have often granted individual commutations of sentence to classes of persons before those more well known amnesties. On March 3 and April 22, 1919, Woodrow Wilson commuted the sentences of 51 and 49 persons respectively, most of whom violated Espionage laws. On December 23, 1921 and June 19, 1923, Warren Harding granted 23 and 44 commutations of sentence mostly to persons who violated the selective service laws

On the other hand, the Whiskey Rebellion and Shays's Rebellion were not nearly as dramatic as they sound. One amnesty simply rewarded pirates for helping us out in the War of 1812. Mormons were also granted an amnesty for the practice of polygamy. Earthquakes are not a necessary prelude to amnesties, or the individual pardon of classes of persons.

President Obama is being criticized because his recent commutations recipients were drug offenders. To release them, the argument goes, is to "in effect" (in political rhetoric, very often code for "not really") usurp Congress and render legislation void, blah, blah, blah. These have always been the things people say when checks and balances don't go their way. In fact, Obama's commutation fit very nicely into the historical use of the pardon power.

On December 4, 1896, for example, Grover Cleveland commuted the sentences of 46 persons convicted of cutting timber on government property. They all violated a law that Congress wrote.

On June 6, 1903, Theodore Roosevelt commuted 24 sentences. Most were granted to persons who were given mandatory minimum sentenced for horse theft. One stole a horse and a saddle. Another stole a mule. One a cow. Roosevelt thought the sentences, created by Congress and applied by the judiciary, were not fair, proportionate, just.

On June 10, 1910, William Howard Taft commuted the sentences of 17 persons, most of whom made illegal sales of alcohol to Indians.

On January 7, 1932, Herbert Hoover commuted the sentences of 25 persons all convicted of the same crime - illegally entering the country.

Pardoning classes of persons, a great American tradition. By the thousands, the dozens, or just one at a time!


Friday, July 24, 2015

Oh Yeah ... and THAT !

In today's Baltimore Sun, David W. Ogden (former deputy attorney general of the United States), Kelly P. Dunbar and Jessica B. Leinwand, attorneys at Wilmer Hale LLP write a letter re President Obama's commutation of the life sentence of Norman O'Neal Brown. Even Brown's sentencing judge thought the mandatory sentence he had to impose was "disproportionate." Twenty four years later, the Sun concluded that the life sentence did not make "sense."

Brown's lawyers agree, of course, but add:
... the editorial missed an important — indeed, the crucial — part of why Mr. Brown was deserving of commutation. Put simply, Mr. Brown has transformed his life. Facing life imprisonment with no possibility of parole in his early 20s, Mr. Brown nonetheless dedicated his life to helping others, by mentoring younger inmates and steering them away from lives of crime. He never received a disciplinary violation in his decades in prison. He created and led various prison support groups and he took it upon himself to work with young men coming into prison. Prison staff praised Mr. Brown as a "model prisoner." Upon his release, Mr. Brown hopes to work with underprivileged youth in his community — in particular, to help persuade young men not to engage in crime. He has made it his life's mission to help others avoid the tragic mistakes he made as a young man.
Yes, easy to see how those kinds of details would be missed. See full letter here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bill O'Reilly: Jackass Mode

In his talking points memo for July 20, 2012, Bill O'Reilly's writers feign an attempt at "investigating" President Obama's recent commutations of sentence. See video here.

At 0:18 O'Reilly says "apparently Mr. Obama believe the justice system is biased against minority individuals, especially in drug cases." Being uncertain as to whether or not Mr. O'Reilly's sarcasm has out run his intelligence, we can only add that this "belief" is well-documented in decades of rigorous statistical analysis. One would be hard pressed to find anyone with half a brain who would deny it. Debate has always centered around proximate causes and potential for reform, but not the basic fact.

At 0:28 O'Reilly states that he "firmly believes" that "selling hard drugs is a violent crime." Of course the "firm" nature of his belief has no bearing on its validity, much less its relevance to the world of law. Equivocating on the word "violence," especially in such a serious context, is something that every American should be concerned about, wary of - unless your end all measure of successful government is exploding prison populations and longer sentences for everyone. Probably best to keep a pretty tight reign on what constitutes "violence" in the world of law and courts, silly television programs notwithstanding. Of course, the only thing worse than an accordion like definition of "violence" is attempting to causally connect as many undesirable persons as possible to it, who are clearly, indisputably not directly related - thank God the law has the energy and the intelligence to make such distinctions! As a supposed conservative leaning libertarian, O'Reilly should know better. Next thing you know, he will be calling for a Sarah Palin murder prosecution.

At 0:50 O'Reilly makes his best attempt to smear one recipient of Obama's commutations, Marlon McNealy. Then, after the smear, childishly asks, "Should you feel compassion for Marvin McNealy? You make the call."

Well, O'Reilly's writers are certainly not the only people who can play with pretty blocks. Consider this:
Marlon McNealy has served twenty-two years in federal prison because of a mandatory life sentence he received for drug offenses at the age of 15 and 18. Although raised in an environment where hard drugs were commonplace, McNealy was no "kingpin" in any sense of the language. He was neither prosecuted nor convicted for any violent crime. Unsurprisingly, his behavior in prison over the last two decades was acceptable enough that he was transferred to a medium security prison.
Should anyone feel compassion for Mr. McNealy? You make the call." 
Hat tip to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders for calling O'Reilly's numbskullery to our attention!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Daniel Horowitz: Don't Know Much About History ...

Over at ConservativeReview.com, presidential pardon expert extraordinaire Daniel Horowitz declares:
... Although his policy of pardoning entire classes of offenses, de facto overturning congressional laws, is clearly a violation of the spirit of the pardon power – which was intended to be used with discretion for individuals or for extraordinary times like during the Civil War and Vietnam draft dodging – no court will limit Obama’s pardons no matter how far he takes them.
Mr. Horowitz manipulates quotes from the Federalist papers to bemoan the possibility of a president abusing the pardon power. What he is not so keen to do is thumb around those glorious essays to find Alexander Hamilton's clever observation that criminal codes have an almost natural tendency toward over-severity. And, for that reason, Hamilton said, there should be "easy access" to mercy. That's right "easy access." The kind of thing that must certainly horrify Horowitz. We are guessing he would have been cheering for the hanging of the Whiskey Rebels and participants in Fries' Rebellion back in the day. Indeed, it is easy to imagine him all red-faced, and yelling, "Extraordinary crimes call for extraordinary punishment!"

Washington - July 10 1795, Whiskey Insurrectionists
Adams - May 21 1800, Pennsylvania Insurrectionists (Fries Rebellion)
Jefferson - October 15 1807, Military deserters (if surrendered in 4 months)
Madison - February 7 1812, Military deserters (if surrendered in 4 months)
Madison - October 8 1812, Military deserters (if surrendered in 4 months)
Madison - June 14 1814, Military deserters (if surrendered in 4 months)
Madison - February 6 1815, Pirates participating in War of 1812
Jackson - June 12 1830, Military deserters discharged, those confined released
Buchanan - April 6, 1858, Utah uprising
Lincoln - February 14 1862, Political prisoners paroled
Lincoln - March 10 1863, Military deserters restored with only forfeiture of pay
Lincoln - December 8 1863, “Rebellion” participants (with exceptions) subject to oath
Lincoln - February 26 1864, Military deserters sentences mitigated, restored to duty
Lincoln - March 26 1864, Clarification of December 8, 1863, amnesty
Lincoln - March 11 1865, Military deserters (if returned to post in 60 days)
Johnson - May 29 1865, Certain rebels of Confederate States
Johnson - May 4 1866, Clarification of previous amnesty
Johnson - July 3 1866, Military deserters restored with only forfeiture of pay
Johnson - September 7 1867, Confederates (excepting certain officers) subject to oath
Johnson - July 4 1868, Confederates (except those indicted for treason or felony)
Johnson - December 25 1868, Confederates (universal and unconditional)
Harrison - January 4 1893, Mormons practicing polygamy
Cleveland - September 25 1894, Mormons practicing polygamy
T. Roosevelt - July 4 1902, Philippine insurrectionists, subject to oath
Wilson - June 14 1917 5,000, Persons under suspended sentences
Wilson - August 21 1917, Clarification, reaffirmation of June 14 amnesty
Coolidge - December 15 1923, Espionage Act
Coolidge - March 5 1924, Over 100 military deserters. Restoration of citizenship.
F. Roosevelt - December 23 1933, Over 1,500 who violated Espionage or Draft laws.
Truman - December 24 1945, Thousands of ex-convicts serving at least 1 year in war
Truman - December 23 1947, 1,523 draft evaders (recommended by Amnesty Board)
Truman - December 24 1952, Convicts serving armed forces at least 1 year since 1950
Truman - December 24 1952, Military deserters convicted between 1945 and 1950
Ford - September 16 1974, Vietnam draft evaders. Conditioned on public service
Carter - January 21 1977, Vietnam draft evaders. Unconditional pardon

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mr. President, Choose Wisely!

As President Obama rolls to the end of his second term, he is sporting one of the most miserable records re federal executive clemency in the history of the United States. At present, only eight presidents have granted fewer pardons and commutations of sentence - and most of them didn't even serve two terms. Although Mr. Obama has received over a thousand more applications for commutation of sentence than his four predecessors combined, he has only granted 1 more commutation of sentence than they did. This is clearly not the "hope and change" many  (including the Editor of this blog) were cheering for.

Now what? Where to go? What path will the President choose?

Path 1: The White House continues to tout its "bold" record on commutations, maybe grants a hundred or so more before the ends of the term and that is it. Maybe we get a "Mission Accomplished" speech and/or banner.

* Our assessment: What a gruesome tragedy it would be, were the President to take this path. To raise expectations so high, after so many years of talk, and head fakes. Sickening to even think of this.

Path 2: The President waits a few more months, then commutes a few hundred sentences, then a few hundred more, then maybe a thousand or two, just before the term ends.

* Our assessment: For most of our history, presidents granted pardons and commutations throughout regularly, throughout the term. A month would simply not go by without a grant. THAT is the way the President should address this issue. A regular string of grants (pardons and commutations), every month, every week! from here to the end of the term. The country, and the pardon power, do not need / deserve another hit like Bill Clinton's foolish last-minute pardon bonanza. That kind of thing attaches public suspicion and distrust to the power and unfairly taints the accomplishments of well-deserving recipients. It comes over as a kind of political stunt to avoid political accountability and makes pardoning look like something less than a calm, objective, deliberative process.

Path 3: The President recognizes what has been long known: that there are systemic problems with the clemency process and - for whatever reasons - it does not have the capacity to adequately address thousands of unfair, unjust, excessive prison sentences and/or sentences which are no longer serving any particular public purpose, So, he decides to address the problem himself, with the powers given to him by the Constitution, in a systematic way (has a kind of logical ring to it, does it not?) So, he does what presidents have done more than a few times since George Washington ... he identifies / defines prisoners by categories of conditions and grants a group / general pardon, or an amnesty.

* Our assessment; The criticisms that accrue to last-minute pardoning are not so easily a factor in the matter of an amnesty, even if it is granted late in the term. Amnesties are, by definition, the result of deliberative, but intentionally aggregate thinking. They are an optional form of policy making in the executive branch, a co-equal branch in our system of checks and balances, The intentions and goals of the policy are, of course, what drive the specification of those who benefits from an amnesty. Detractors may disagree with the policy, which is fine. It is our sense, however, that there has never been a better time for a president to take this path. Indeed, there is every reason in this world to think that - after the obligatory showing of asses - support for such an amnesty would be quite strong.

In sum, Path 1 is highly objectionable. Path 2 is barely tolerable, but only because of the pitiful record of presidents over the previous 4-5 decades. Path 3 just makes perfect sense.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Morison: Really Simple. Amnesty.

Sam Morison
Today, at Forbes, Jacob Sullum rocks the world with a piece on pardoning in the Obama administration. Replete with background information and data, Sullum pulled off an impressive trifecta by interviewing former Office of the Pardon Attorney attorney adviser, Sam Morison. We encourage readers to read the entire piece here, but here are some snippets re Morison:

[on the DOJ's current criteria for commutations] ... “It is an exceedingly narrow set of criteria,” says Sam Morison, a lawyer specializing in clemency who worked in the Office of the Pardon Attorney for 13 years during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Even so, he says, “they should have no problem finding cases if they are really serious about it.” Morison worries that even if Obama sincerely wants to make up for lost time, he will face “pushback” from the Justice Department. “In my experience, it was not a lack of manpower” that blocked commutations, he says. “It was a lack of political will. The Justice Department wasn’t going to do it.”  
[on Obama's options] Earnest promises that Obama will use “executive authority to try to correct as many injustices as possible,” while urging Congress to “enact the kind of reforms that the president can’t by acting on his own.” But Obama can do a lot more than he has done so far, and his unused power will be especially important if Congress fails to pass significant sentencing reforms this year. “The president could largely fix this in an afternoon,” says Morrison, by issuing an “amnesty proclamation” that retroactively applies the lighter crack penalties that Congress approved in 2010, commuting sentences that would be shorter under current law. Families Against Mandatory Minimums says that change alone could help something like 8,800 prisoners.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Atlantic: Amnesty for Pot Offenders

In recent months, the Editor of this blog has worked with Zack Hinden of The Atlantic, providing historical insight and original data. Hinden's curiosity was how presidential use of pardons in the era of Prohibition, and the immediate post-Prohibition era, might be analogous to pardoning in an era when public attitudes about marijuana are changing and decriminalization is a growing trend in the states. Here are some excerpts from Hinden's fine effort. You can read the entire piece here.
On Monday, President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 federal prisoners locked up for nonviolent drug offenses, raising the total number of commutations he’s issued to 89. ... Good news, no doubt, and an invitation to consider how we measure progress when it comes to executive clemency ... 
Congress [introduced] a bill to shore up the Eighteenth Amendment, known as the Volstead Act. Wilson vetoed the Act. Congress overrode his veto. With no legislative recourse, Wilson chipped away at Prohibition using the executive power that Congress could not check: his pardon. By the end of his second term, alcohol offenders accounted for more than one-fifth of Wilson’s clemency recipients ... when Prohibition was repealed by popular demand in 1933, FDR went on a pardoning spree that outclassed his predecessors, approving alcohol offenders who had been previously rejected or otherwise hadn’t even applied. Wilson used his pardon to protest an impossible law. Roosevelt used his to acknowledge the change in social norms. ... 
The time when most Americans condoned alcohol consumption despite Prohibition rhymes with our own, when 53 percent of the country supports the legalization of marijuana, and pot laws have been curtailed in 23 states and the nation’s capital ...   
The precedents are clear. When an executive believes that the letter of the law runs counter to the public interest, it’s his prerogative to pardon. Consider, for instance, the amnesties granted to tax-resisting Whiskey Rebels by Washington and Adams, to aliens and seditionists by Jefferson, to pirates by Madison, to Confederate soldiers by Johnson, to draft-dodgers by Carter—or, in effect, to 4.3 million undocumented immigrants last November, by President Obama. Just as that decision pressed Congress and state legislatures to come around on immigration, amnesty for marijuana offenders would send a reality check—to governors who wield their own pardon power, to police and judges, as well as to employers, landlords, and college admissions committees—that most Americans don’t believe marijuana-use needs punishing, and that there’s justice in forgiveness.
Click on Image (Above) to Enlarge

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

GOP House Members Go Abruptly Stupid

Today, a group of House Republicans has graced the U.S. Attorney General with a letter complaining as follows:
As Members of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Department of Justice, including the functions performed by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, we are deeply concerned that the President continues to use his pardon power to benefit specific classes of offenders, or for political purposes.
The "for political purposes" is, of course, a throwaway line, but complaining about clemency on behalf of "specific classes of offenders" is the stuff of a very special kind of stupidity and ignorance.

Looking over our web tracking tools this evening, we see that someone in the Executive Office of the President of the United States spent several hours on this blog today, and focused particularly on the Truman and Kennedy presidencies and this link.

http://www.pardonpower.com/2008/12/context-amnesties-or-blanket-pardons.html

To which we say, "Bravo, White House!" As the great Ann Peebles might put it: "Tear their little playhouse down, room by room."

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