Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Louisiana: A Deal for No Pardon?

In 2006, Roy Roberts pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder after a stabbing attack on the teenage daughters of his girlfriend. Now, Roberst has signed a plea deal which is said to require that he spend the rest of his life in prison. State District Judge Tony Marabella says the plea agreement (exchanged for a death sentence) prohibits Roberts from ever applying for parole, a commutation of his sentence, or a pardon from a governor. In addition, Roberts agreed to never try to make any money by selling books or profit from the case. See full story here.

EDITOR: While I cannot speak with expert knowledge of the laws of the State of Louisiana, it seems there are some things worth exploring in this case. The plea agreement (as described) does not allow Roberts to apply for a pardon. But what if a governor 30 years down the road decides a pardon is merited? Is the plea agreement an attempt to limit that governor's power? Does the Constitution of the State of Louisiana allow that? In one famous case, a president commuted the death sentence of an individual to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But a later president came along and commuted the sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Is this scenario an option for Roberts?


PatHMV said...

I was a pardon attorney (among other duties) for former governor Mike Foster of Louisiana. Generally speaking, the Constitution's grant of the pardon power to the governor cannot be restricted.

The legislature, over the past 30 years or so, has occasionally attempted to make "life without parole" also mean "life without pardon or commutation." The state Supreme Court has declared any legislative restriction on the governor's constitutional clemency power to be a violation of the state constitution.

Under Art. 4, sec. 5 of the state constitution, the clemency power does not depend upon an application, though of course that is the normal practice to set things in motion. We have a two-step process: First the pardon board must recommend an act of clemency and then the governor must accept (or reject) that recommendation. If the pardon board never recommends, then the governor can never grant.

Very interesting blog. I'm fascinated by pardons, given my employment stint handling them, so I'm sure I'll be checking back often.

cj said...

PatHMV - How might someone sentenced to life without the possibility of parole apply for clemency/commutation? Is it possible? I'm doing a bit of Internet searching for some intial info and, possibly, an attorney in this area. I took a quick look at your blog, but did not see a direct contact for you (though I did see one for your colleague Simon). Any quick comment on steps toward commutation are greatly appreciated! Thanks, CJ in NYC

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