Monday, November 30, 2009

Clemmons' Commutation for Parole Eligibility

Recent reporting regarding Maurice Clemmons, the suspect in the fatal shooting of four police officers in Seattle, is providing excellent material for understanding the dangers of the anecdote and the short-term benefits of sloppy reporting. As most of us know by now, Clemmons once had a 95 to 108-year prison sentence commuted by then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.


At least part of the logic behind the decision making at the time was that Clemmons was sentenced for crimes that he had committed when he was only 16-years old and that he had served 11 years of his sentence - readers should certainly feel free to assess the quality of that logic on its face. For what it is worth, Abraham Lincoln used it regularly in his own clemency decisions. And, by the way, you read that right up top. The guy was sentenced to 95 to 108 years! What on earth did he do? Murder ten people and rob banks inbetween? Go ahead, cut through the awful "reporting" and find out the answer for yourself.

Oh, yes, he may very well be a violent felonious murderer now, but what was he when Huckabee made his decision? Look up his crimes. Then see how you feel about how appropriate his 95 to 108-year sentence was! Why, with a little bit of thought, you may even start to understand how this commutation failed to make an Arkansas newspaper's list of Huckabee’s 10 “most publicized” commutations in 2004!


Contrary to the romantic vision of the reactionary reader, knee-deep in Clint-Eastwood-Nixonian retributive justice, Gov. Huckabee's decision was not unilateral, and he did not summarily toss Clemmons out into the street to rape and pillage. Instead, a five-member State board first recommended unanimously that clemency be granted to Clemmons. That's right, a group of individuals with more - and better - information than Huckabee recommended clemency (not a pardon) for Clemmons. No one has ever pardoned Clemmons, or even recommended a pardon. Thus, headlines at The Hill and The Atlantic suggesting that Clemmons was "pardoned" by Huckabee are as stupid as they are sensational.


In addtion, the effect of Huckabee's commutation of sentence, granted in May of 2000, was only to make Clemmons eligible for parole - the granting of parole, again, being a decision made by an entirely different body of decision makers. Salon actually says, "Huckabee's the man who set him free"! Ditto the UK Times Online, "Freed by Huckabee"! PardonPower readily admits that those headlines are much more sexy than "Recommended Commutation After 11 Years Makes Prisoner Parole Eligible!"

After Huckabee's clemency decision, allowing for the possibility of parole, the seven-member Arkansas State Parole Board - operating with more (and better) information on the case - granted parole on July 13, 2000. As it turns out, a county judge also "strongly supported" such leniency to the Board, in 1999, and the original sentencing judge did not oppose the recommendation.

Given 1) Huckabee's logic and the 2) actual effect of his decision making, it appears that the State's parole process and current procedures in the State Washington for releasing criminal suspects are much more worthy of criticism. Incidentally, Governor Huckabee granted 1,033 pardons and commutations. See story here and here and here and here and here and here

1 comment:

info said...

Thanks. Readers should remember that today's media need to publish now and that puts incredible stress on the process of "getting it right." That's not an excuse; just the instant world we live in. And, yes, some media push an agenda.

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