Thursday, December 11, 2008

Michigan: Call for Clemency, Courage

An editorial in the Detroit Free Press calls on Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) to commute the sentences of every one of the state's 50,000 inmates "worthy of returning to society." Why? Two reasons: "Justice and a state budget crisis." The article notes former Michigan Governor William Milliken (1969-82), commuted 95 sentences (all for first-degree murder). But Milliken says, "The one regret I have is that I didn't grant more." The piece argues:

Gov. Granholm, a former prosecutor, is a very decent and capable person whom I like and admire. But her problem in making commutations -- and on corrections issues in general -- is not only a lack of political courage but also an unbridled faith in the criminal justice system. She has told me more than once that she won't second-guess a jury. But DNA technology, here and around the country, has shown, absolutely and repeatedly, that people are wrongfully convicted.

Unfortunately, such evidence is available in only a fraction of cases. In others, incompetent defense attorneys, jury bias or a prosecutor withholding evidence can lead to a wrongful conviction. As someone who has served on two juries, I also know that many -- perhaps most -- jurors don't understand what, legally speaking, "reasonable doubt" means.

Making matters worse, scandalously low pay for court-appointed attorneys and a lack of state standards and oversight have made Michigan's public defense system one of the nation's worst.

Granholm has approved 61 commutations, but "mostly for sick and dying inmates" and "not using it in even one case where it is warranted" creates "a grave injustice." See full editorial here.

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