Thursday, January 29, 2009

Comment: The Pardon Problem

The National Post features an editorial by Father Raymond J.De Souza which suggests President Bush was "spooked" by the "bad taste" left by Bill Clinton's last-minute pardon spree. But De Souza suggests Bush's "sparing use" of the pardon power "continued a trend of general unwillingness to use pardon and commutation powers as a regular part of the criminal justice system." And, he adds, the "sparing use" of the pardon power "can only be justified by a great confidence that the criminal justice system actually produces justice." Says De Sousa:
From long experience in prisons, my own judgment is that in Canada it is not unusual for men to be imprisoned for crimes that they did not commit. More common is the case of a man for whom the law prescribes a sentence that is legal, but not just. Most egregious, the parade these past years of spectacular wrongful convictions confirms that errors are made regularly -- and we only know about the most high-profile cases which come to light. The situation in the United States, where the power of the prosecutors is greater and sentences much stricter, can only be worse. Moreover, the reality is that the fearsome powers of the prosecutorial state are often brought to bear on the poor, the marginal and the weak, often so crushed by the state that they never even make it to trial before they plead guilty.
De Sousa argues that clemency is not "only an offer of mercy." It is also about "doing justice," because the very existence of the power recognizes that "in the criminal justice system errors happen, and that even when it works as it should it does not always produce a just outcome." See full editorial here.


Jay said...

i agree that there are errors in the justice system, but who is to say where they are? and if a criminal judge or jury cant find it, how can a governor or the president? i agree that pardons should be used in cases of unjust sentences, but using pardoning power in cases for people have been convicted MAY have been innocent sounds like a complete breakdown of the system to me. i applaud President Bush for using his power somewhat sparringly.

Anonymous said...

But Jay, the "system" provides for a discretionary pardon power by the President, i.e., Art. II. Cl. ii of the Constitution. The grant of a pardon, by definition, is thus part of the system.

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