Tuesday, November 30, 2010

California: The Case of Kevin Cooper

Alan M. Dershowitz and David B. Rivkin Jr. have a piece in the L.A. Times which argues for executive clemency on behalf of Kevin Cooper. The piece opens with a quote from a dissenting opinion by Judge William Fletcher of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Fletcher says the State of California "may be about to execute an innocent man."

Cooper, an African-American, was convicted of murdering Doug and Peggy Ryen, their daughter and a house guest in 1985. An eight-year-old managed to survive. Cooper, had escaped from a minimum-security prison two days earlier and was hiding in an empty house nearby. On the other hand, the surviving child said the murderers were three white men. The piece also notes that, on the night of the murders, "a white man was spotted driving what was probably the Ryens' station wagon, which had been stolen. And the injuries to the victims suggested multiple weapons, not just one."

Florida: Mercy for 69-Year Old?

Mary Taylor Christensen - the former wife of the Thrifty-Nickel newspaper publisher - was 64 years old when she hit and killed a 40-year old man with her car. To make matters worse, she fled the scene. To make matters even more worse, she was driving under the influence of alcohol - nearly three times the legal limit to be exact. Christensen told a judge that she wished that she had been the one who died in the incident, but she received an 11-year prison sentence.  Now, after serving two years of her sentence, she is applying for a commutation of sentence from the State's Clemency Board. A state's attorney says she should have to serve out the sentence. She is also reported to be "one of about 80" applications that will "go before the board next week," along with that of the Doors front man Jim Morrison. See story here.

Interview: Thursday, WAMU 88.5 (D.C.)

P.S. Ruckman, Jr., the Editor of the Pardon Power blog, will be a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, WAMU 88.5, public radio, Washington, D.C., this Thursday, December 2nd, at noon (Central Standard). The host has been identified by the Washington Post as "maybe the best radio interviewer in town." I will be joined by none other than former staff member of the Office of the Pardon Attorney, Sam Morison. It should be great!

Examiner on Dan Hanks

At the Washington Examiner, Diane Diamond is encouraging President Obama to take a break from pardoning turkeys and grant a pardon to her "friend," Daniel Joseph Portley-Hanks. She says Hanks "has conducted undercover investigations for our government, specifically the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation" since the 1980s. She says he also "helped the feds crack a multitude of major cases that put away dozens of career criminals." These opportunities, however, were the by-product of multiple arrests for "auto and property theft, burglary and for being in possession of stolen checks" and a change of direction while serving out a prison sentence.

New Hampshire: DUI Pardon Request

WMUI, Channel 9 reports that Eileen Kerwick is seeking a pardon after being convicted of five DUI offenses. It is reported that, under state law, "a person convicted of four DWI's can't petition to get their license back for at least seven years after their last conviction." But Kerwick is said to take "full responsibility" for her mistakes and is now "dedicated to sobriety." She also notes that her job, as a clinical supervisor for Children's Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock now requires her to "travel around the state." See full story here.

Minnesota: Sad Commentary on a Sad Case

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Gov. Tim Pawlenty "and two other officials" (the State's Attorney General and a State Supreme Court justice) unanimously granted a pardon to 36-year old Jeremy Giefer two years ago. But, now, after the fact, some county prosecutors say Giefer was "sexually assaulting" a "young girl hundreds of times before and after he received his pardon." Of course, wanting to make as much out of it as possible, some "experts" are expressing their view that the situation might have an impact on any decision Pawlenty makes regarding a run for the presidency!

Friday, November 26, 2010

From Alcatraz to the White House

The 1991 autobiography of Nathan Glenn Williams carried the catchy title, From Alcatraz to the White House.

Williams claimed that, from the time he was a small boy, he had a “burning desire” to be a gangster. As far as he was concerned, he had "seen enough movies” to educate himself in the gangster lifestyle. So, he was convicted of burglary, car theft, robbery, assault and criminal vandalism ... all before he was fifteen years old! After adding forgery, kidnapping and discharging a firearm during the commission of a felony to the list, Williams found himself convicted of being an “habitual criminal.”

A jury of his peers needed only five hours to reach a guilty verdict decision and the judge gave him “life in prison.” During the sentencing, the judge also informed the 23-year old Williams that he was the youngest person in the United States ever to be convicted of being an habitual criminal.

Ohio: Unusual Reporting

ABC News 13, Toledo is reporting on gang banger Willie Knighten Junior, who was pardoned a year ago, after spending 13 years in prison for murder. Today, he works at Johnson Control and is looking forward to getting back into school. He also "spends time talking with neighborhood kids about his life." Knighten says he tells kids "about the ways they are living and the things that they're doing; there's a better way." See story here.

Michigan: Former Governor Lobbies for Pardons

Jack Lessenberry of Wayne State University has an editorial in today's Toledo Blade regarding former Governor Bill Milliken, "Michigan's longest-serving governor. " The piece says Milliken "usually doesn't give his successors advice these days unless they ask for it." The sole exception would be in the matter of "dozens of women in Michigan prisoners who he is convinced don't belong behind bars." Lessenberry says these women "are no threat to society," but mostly "battered and abused women who were unjustly convicted or got sentences far harsher than they deserved." Thus Milliken has joined with the Michigan Women's Justice and Clemency Project in seeking clemency on their behalf.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Illinois: Quinn Still Cleaning Up Blago's Mess

It is reported that Gov. Pat Quinn has "approved" 20 clemency petitions and denied another 48. All of the petitions were from the years 2003 and 2004.

To date, Quinn has granted 317 of 810 clemency petitions and denied 425 petitions. See story here and here.

Error !

Pardon Power acknowledges - and has made corrections in all relevant posts and charts taking into account - an apparent error in the calculation of the number of days that it took George W. Bush to grant the first pardons of his administration. Our previous calculation, 702 days, was based on a date of December 23, 2002.

A helpful reader has informed us, however, that Bush actually signed the master warrant for this batch of pardons on December 20, 2002 (a Friday), thus making the proper number of days 699. The pardons were simply announced the following Monday and also very often reported in the National media as having been granted that morning (see, for example, CNN , The New York Daily News, USA Today).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This Afternoon! Pardon Power on NPR

P.S. Ruckman, Jr., the Editor of the Pardon Power blog, will appear on this afternoon's edition of All Things Considered.

Check your local listings for the time!

Huffington Post on Obama's Non-Pardons

Dan Froomkin, senior Washington editor for the Huffington Post has written a fantastic piece on President Obama's complete failure to pardon. It is entitled, "Turkey Spared - But Obama's Compassion for Humans comes up short." Froomkin makes several outstanding points and provides snippets of commentary from the Editor of the Pardon Power blog, George Lardner, former Office of the Pardon Attorney staff member Sam Morison and conservative columnist Debra Saunders.

Obama Justifies Turkey Pardon

See video here.

The Significance of the Lardner Warrant

In a previous post, we noted:
... Lardner also reveals, for the first time, information which is the by-product of the effort that he is making to complete a book on the history of pardons in the United States. Namely. Lardner reveals that he has discovered a clemency warrant (hereafter referred to as the "Lardner warrant") that was signed by George Washington much earlier than the first officially recorded clemency warrant by the State Department (April 15, 1794, to one David Blair). By State Department records, Washington waited 1,511 days before granting the first pardon. The Lardner warrant, however, was signed on February 28, 1791, only 669 days into the administration. We will discuss the ramifications of this finding elsewhere.
Here is the place for such explanation:

From a political science standpoint, from at least the work of W.H. Humbert (1941), the benchmark for the first presidential pardon has been April 15, 1794. This is, in fact, the date that is written on the first warrant in State Department records (National Archives, Microfilm Set T967). But the Lardner warrant places the first pardon of the administration at the 669th day mark (click on chart to the left, where each benchmark is noted). The discovery of the Lardner warrant means the following:

Lardner on Pardons in the NY Times

George Lardner has provided the New York Times with a beautifully written piece entitled, "No Country for Second Chances." It begins by observing - as this blog has repeatedly - that President Obama "has yet to judge a single person worthy of his grace."

But Lardner also reveals, for the first time, information which is the by-product of the effort that he is making to complete a book on the history of pardons in the United States. Namely. Lardner reveals that he has discovered a clemency warrant (hereafter referred to as the "Lardner warrant") that was signed by George Washington much earlier than the first officially recorded clemency warrant by the State Department (April 15, 1794, to one David Blair). By State Department records, Washington waited 1,511 days before granting the first pardon. The Lardner warrant, however, was signed on February 28, 1791, only 669 days into the administration. We will discuss the ramifications of this finding elsewhere.

Countdown to Infamy: It's Official !

Today, President Obama passes Bill Clinton and officially becomes the slowest Democratic president in the history of the United States to exercise the pardon power (click on chart to the left).

That's right. Zero pardons or commutations of sentence in 673 days, despite thousands of new and pending applications. And the count continues! Incidentally, the average waiting period for all presidents is well less than one hundred days.

Now, the only question is whether or not Obama will wait still yet another 26 days and pass the slowest president since the two party system kicked in - George W. Bush. As 1 out of every 2 pardons over the last 39 years has been granted in the month of December, it doesn't seem likely that Obama will pass him. But, you never know!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ohio: 39 Pardons

The Dayton Daily News reports that Gov. Ted Strickland has granted executive clemency to 39 people. 33 persons were granted pardons and 6 received commutations. At the same time he denied clemency in 137 cases. None of the cases involved the death penalty, and most are said to be "associated with minor or nonviolent offenses" (including theft, burglary, passing bad checks, drug trafficking and marijuana possession). See full story here and here.

Georgia: 220 Pardons!

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has given full pardon to 182 prisoners, commuted the sentences of 32 others, placed three prisoners on probation and releases three prisoners from parole. The occasion? St. George Day! See story here.

Tennessee: The Governor's Record

At the Tennessean.Com, the clemency record of Gov. Phil Bredesen is reviewed. It is reported that, during his eight year tenure, the State's clemency board has sent him only 21 recommendations. This year alone, the board has received 227 applications for clemency, reviewed 158 of them and recommended only five. Bredesen has also commuted the death sentences of Gaile Owens and Michael Joe Boyd to life in prison and exonerated Clark McMillan (convicted of rape and robbery but released after DNA evidence proved his innocence - 22 years later!)See complete story here.

Wisconsin: Pardon Board Voting Controversy

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting on a controversy regarding the State's Pardon Advisory Board. It notes that, last August, the sentences of two inmates (Walker Johnson and Darryl L. Nortonwere) commuted even though Susan Crawford, the board chairwoman and legal counsel to Governor Doyle, did not vote ... at least not at the meeting. Crawford instead informed the board that she would vote "later." In one instance, hers was the deciding vote. The president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council doesn't like it, even if it was legally acceptable. The Journal Sentinel reports that "the last time a sentence was commuted, rather than pardoned, was in 1995, when Tommy G. Thompson was governor." Norton's commutation was opposed by a Racine County Circuit Judge. See full story here.

Obama: Countdown to Infamy, 0 !

Today, President Obama has tied Bill Clinton as the  slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. That's right. Zero pardons or commutations of sentence in 672 days ... and counting!

The average for all presidents is well under one hundred days.

Click on chart to the left.

Monday, November 22, 2010

From Today's White House Briefing:

QUESTION: Robert, on Wednesday the president pardons another couple of turkeys. Are there any people pardons in the pipeline?



QUESTION: You would make news if there were.


GIBBS: I -- I will check with counsel to see the degree to which -- what's the process for -- for active pardons in the administration. I'll check...

QUESTION: He hasn't had any yet.

GIBBS: No, no, he has not.

QUESTION: Do you know why?

GIBBS: I don't.

The Priorities of Charlie Crist

The Florida Independent notes that "despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that Florida’s practice of sentencing juveniles to life for nonmurder crimes is unconstitutional, Florida’s many juvenile prisoners have not seen much mercy." Instead "several juveniles have been re-sentenced to terms that still amount to life sentences." According to the Lakeland Ledger, "experts" report that there are "at least 116 prisoners" in such situations. On the other hand, the Governor has an excellent record when it comes to pardoning unrepentant, dead, dope headed "rock" stars. See story here.

Obama: Countdown to Infamy, 1 !

Tomorrow, President Obama will tie Bill Clinton as the  slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. 671 days and counting! The average for all presidents is well under one hundred days.

Click on chart to the left.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Congressman With Too Many Wives

C.C. Bowen was a member of the United States House of Representatives from the State of South Carolina. He was born Christopher Columbus Bowen in Providence, Rhode Island, but the family moved to Georgia when he was eighteen years old. There, he farmed, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1862. He actually practiced law in Charleston before he decided to enlist in the Confederate Army.

The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress simply notes Bowen “served throughout the war as a captain in the Coast Guard.” But authors Jane H. Pease and William H. Pease observe Bowen forged the signature of a commanding officer, one Colonel William P. White, on an extended leave pass in order to go on a gambling binge. After his capture, Bowen was court-martialed, stripped of his rank and dishonorably discharged. In the spirit of calculated revenge, Bowen attempted to arrange for the murder of the officer that had caused him such grief. Thus, one author may have been prone to understatement when he wrote that Bowen was "a mischievous fellow who would stop at nothing in trying to accomplish his purpose." But the cover up of the murder for hire scheme was not done well. Bowen and the private who actually did the shooting were soon arrested. As fate would have it, Federal (Northern) troops arrived in Charleston and had all prisoners released!

Wisconsin: Returns on a Pardoned Felon

Jim Sting, at the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinal has written an excellent piece entitled, "Pardoning Felons Returns Dividends." The piece recounts a day in 1996 when Sting was reporting on the State's "rarely covered" pardon board. That is when he heard the "remarkable story" of one Harold E. Stafford, who is now a lawyer practicing in Wisconsin.

The 35-year old Stafford appeared before the board in 1996 because he needed a pardon in order to be admitted to the bar. Although he was the son of a judge, Stafford had starting doing drugs in the 7th grade and dropped out of college a couple of times. He then moved on to California cocaine trafficking. But his family got him into drug treatment and he went back to college and became a deacon of a church!

Obama: Countdown to Infamy, 2 !

In two days, President Obama will become the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. 670 days and counting! The average for all presidents is well under one hundred days.

Click on chart to the left.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pardoned: Public Goon Number 1

Everyone remembers that Richard Nixon commuted the sentence of Jimmy Hoffa, but few people remember that Gerald Ford pardoned Teamster legend David Beck.

Beck once entertained the idea of going to law school. And he later observed that, given his numerous courtroom appearances, such training “would have come in handy.” But, instead, the path of the high school dropout’s life seemed to be set on December 1, 1924, when he was elected secretary to a Laundry Driver’s Union. Shortly thereafter, Beck attended his first meeting of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and was given a five hundred dollar a month job as part-time general “organizer.” He then became a full-time “organizer” for the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.

Watch List: Pollard's Father Speaks

Today's Washington Post features a lengthy editorial regarding a possible pardon for Jonathan Pollard, who has now spent 25 years in prison. It is written by Pollard's father and a lawyer in Israel.

First, the piece recognizes that Pollard "was arrested for passing to Israel classified U.S. data concerning Iraq, Syria and other Arab states, including evidence of Saddam Hussein's development of chemical weapons." But it claims that "the type of information [he] transmitted was part of an intelligence flow the United States had previously shared with Israel but that was cut off after Israel destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981."

Second, it is charged that Pollard was "singled out" and that his subsequent life sentence is the only one ever given to someone for "spying for an American ally or neutral country." We are not aware of any specific data on what we assume must be an extremely narrow class of criminal defendants (the piece says "more than 20"), or the relative degree of criminality among them. But the general point is attributed to Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense. Korb also claims former defense secretary Casper Weinberger had an "almost visceral dislike of Israel."

Connecticut: More Sensible than Florida

The long-dead Jim Morrison may be up for pardon in Florida, but in Connecticut, where he was arrested, it simply does not matter. Morrison was arrested in December of 1967 in New Haven. He was fined $25, but the Connecticut Post quotes the director of the State Board of Pardons as saying:
"We don't do that ... Our position has always been that the request for a pardon has to come from the person himself. It's come up before regarding the people convicted as witches. People have gone to the Legislature seeking to exonerate the witches too. The Legislature can pass a resolution, but it can't pardon anybody."
A spokesperson for the governor also says that he does not have the authority to do anything either. See story here.

Obama: Countdown to Infamy, 3 !

In three days, President Obama will become the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. 669 days and counting! The average for all presidents is well under one hundred days.

Click on chart to the left.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sad. Just Downright Sad.

As if it is not already wretched enough that presidents have stupidly been pardoning fat turkeys for years, we have to also be cursed with extensive media reporting on where the turkeys come from, what they look like and where they are going ... ugh!

So far, President Obama has had 3,482 new applications for pardons and commutations of sentence and over 3,000 applications were pending at the beginning of fiscal year (2010). But the National media have given much more attention to the quirky names of pardoned turkeys.

The Alyona Show

On Thanksgiving Day, P.S. Ruckman, Jr., the Editor of the Pardon Power blog will appear on The Alyona Show for RT (formerly known as Russia Today).

The topic will be President Obama's failure to grant a single pardon or commutation of sentence.

Obama: Countdown to Infamy, 4 !

In four days, President Obama will become the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. 668 days and counting! The average for all presidents is well under one hundred days.

Click on chart to the left.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An Award!

The Pardon Power blog has been recognized as a "Top Criminal Law Blog" by the folks at www.criminology.net ... there is certainly no stopping us now!

Ohio: Strickland to Get Busy

The Dayton Daily News reports that Gov. Ted Strickland "hopes to make decisions on all 1,200 applications for clemency now piled on his desk" before he leaves office in January. Strickland says he has been "working through them" and spending "hours and hours and hours" in the process. He also says that he expects to rule on a "batch" of applications in a week or two.  On the other hand, Strickland insists that he believes the process should be "handled carefully and deliberatively." See full story here.

Delaware: Denied

NECN reports that 38-year old Rachel Holt, a former elementary school teacher who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for having sex more than 25 times in a single week with a 13-year-old student has been denied clemency. She also gave the minor alcohol. Holt, who was arrested in 2006, was seeking a commutation of sentence from the Delaware Board of Pardons, which needed only 30 minutes to make its decision. Holt was said to have been "gasping" after the decision "wept as she was escorted out of the hearing room." NECN also reports that the commutation application "was supported by prison officials but opposed by prosecutors." Holt's lawyer notes that other teachers who have had sex with students have received lesser sentences. See story here.

Libby Unplugged

Today's Washington Times has an interview with Scooter Libby, whose prison sentence was commuted by President Bush. The Times notes that Libby did "pay a quarter-million-dollar fine, served 400 hours of community service and had his law license taken away" because, essentially, there was a "dispute about whether his memory or that of TV journalist Tim Russert was correct." In addition, the conversation was "months-past" and had "nothing" to do with the supposed leak of Valarie Wilson's name.

The Times says that, throughout the interview, Libby "explicitly and repeatedly asserted his innocence" and said that he still thinks that it was actually Russert who mentioned Plame's name to him.  According to Libby, "America's leading expert on the science of memory" reviewed his case and concluded that  he "could not render a fair decision based on the evidence before the jury."

Obama: Countdown to Infamy, 5 !

In five days, President Obama will become the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. 667 days and counting! The average for all presidents is well under one hundred days.

Click on chart to the left.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pardon Power on NPR

The Editor of the Pardon Power blog, P.S. Ruckman, Jr., is tentatively committed to an interview with National Public Radio's Ari Shapiro to air Thursday, November 25th.

Wisconsin: Death Bed Pardon?

It is reported that 52-year old Lawrencia "Bamni" Bembenek is "near death" as a result of "Hepatitis C and liver failure" and possibly cancer. In 1982, Bembenek, a former Milwaukee Police, murdered her then-husband's ex-wife. She then escaped from Taycheedah Correctional Institution, however, and secured a second trial, pleading "no contest." Bembenek received credit for time served and was released in 1992. But she says she was "framed." So, the Governor's Pardon Advisory Board will meet to decide her "legal fate." See story here.

Obama: Countdown to Infamy, 6 !

In six days, President Obama will become the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. 666 days and counting! The average for all presidents is well under one hundred days.

Click on chart to the left.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wisconsin: Interview Policy Changed

The Chicago Tribune reports that a member of Wisconsin's Pardon Advisory Board "says the panel has waived its longstanding policy of requiring applicants to appear in person for a hearing." A representative of the state Justice Department is also said to be "concerned" about the policy change. See story here.

Obama: Countdown to Infamy, 7 !

In seven days, President Obama will become the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. 665 days and counting! The average for all presidents is well under one hundred days.

Click on chart to the left.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ohio: Commutation of Sentence

WYTV 33 reports Governor Strickland prevented the execution of Sidney Cornwell, by reducing his sentence to life in prison without parole. Cornwell unintentionally shot and killed a 3 year old girl during an episode of gang violence in 1996. Three adults were also injured.

Strickland also issued the following statement:
“As a result of his conviction for aggravated murder, Mr. Sidney Cornwell is scheduled to be executed on November 16, 2010. I have completed a review of the circumstances surrounding his case to determine if executive clemency is warranted.

Obama: Countdown to Infamy, 8 !

In eight days, President Obama will become the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. 664 days and counting! The average for all presidents is well under one hundred days.

Click on chart to the left.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More Mercy in Fujairah than in the U.S.

H. H. Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi, the Supreme Council member and Ruler of Fujairah (United Arab Emirates) has pardoned 76 prisoners "of various nationalities" from the correctional and punitive establishments "after they showed good conduct while serving their jail terms." It is also reported that Sheikh Hamad wanted the released persons to "reunite with their families during the Eid Al Adha." The Director of Fujairah Police praised the decision and hopes it will encourage the pardoned individuals to "lead a decent life." See article here.

Canada: Cost of Mercy To Increase?

CTV News reports that the cost of a pardon "would triple to $150 under a proposal from the federal parole board." The increase is justified via considerations of "inflation, processing costs and the volume of pardon applications" which has "increased significantly since the mid-1990s when the current fee was set." In 2008-09, the board received more than 36,000 applications! CTV also reports that a former hockey coach, Graham James, "was pardoned for sex crimes in 2007, a fact that did not become public knowledge until it was revealed by The Canadian Press last April." See full story here.

Obama: Countdown to Infamy, 10 !

In ten days, President Obama will become the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. 662 days and counting! The average for all presidents is well under one hundred days.

Click on chart to the left.

Obama: Countdown to Infamy, 9 !

In nine days, President Obama will become the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power. 663 days and counting! The average for all presidents is well under one hundred days.

Click on chart to the left.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Arkansas: 9 Pardons

The Arkansas Democratic Gazette has announced that the Governor intends to grant nine pardons. Two dozen addtional requests were denied. The Gazette notes all nine recipients "have completed all jail time, fulfilled all parole-and-probationary requirements and paid all fines related to their sentences." Among the offenses pardoned:  Theft of Property, Possession of Controlled Substance, Theft by Receiving, Possession of Meth, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Possession of Marijuana, Hot Check, Battery 3rd Degree, Failure to Appear, Burglary. See additional details here.

Let Us Be the FIRST to Complain

In just a few days, President Obama will pass Bill Clinton as the slowest Democratic president in history to grant a pardon or commutation of sentence. If history is a guide of any value, he will grant a handful of pardons sometime a couple of weeks into December. As this blog has reported, one out of every two pardons granted over the last 39 years has been granted in December.

When the handful of pardons is dumped, the scene will be predictable enough. In all likelihood, none of them will have even a remote sense of "controversy" about them. Obama was gratuitously critical of Bush's commutation of sentence for Scooter Libby. He also appointed Eric Holder as attorney general, who brought more pardon luggage to that office than any individual in history (Marc Rich, FALN terrorists, etc.). And, of course, Obama, who so condescendingly noted (in a debate) that he could do more than one thing at time, can always claim, to the satisfaction of many, that he has been far too busy doing other, more important things. To top it off, Obama mysteriously retained George W. Bush's pardon attorney! In sum, there is no time for pardon controversies ... at this point.

On Turkeys and Pardons

In today's Washington Post, Margaret Love recounts the history of presidential turkey pardons and notes that, like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, President Obama has "waited too long" to pardon a human! She also suggests this "hands-off approach" to pardons is exactly what let to the "last-minute frenzy" of clemency applications in those administrations.  Says Love:
It is a shame that the system for administering the pardon power no longer serves and protects the president, for there has never been a greater need for a robust and respectable pardon program. The federal prison population of roughly 200,000 includes many who have served decades for nonviolent drug offenses and others who deserve a second look to determine whether midcourse correction would be appropriate. Thousands of ordinary people living productive and law-abiding lives in this country are disqualified from opportunities and benefits because of a conviction record that may be decades old. These are people who have earned the second chance that a pardon represents. Your own attorney general has criticized these proliferating collateral consequences as a "recipe for high recidivism."
Loves points out the fact that, to date, Obama has only pardoned a turkey - well, and that kid who missed schoool! See full editorial here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More on Bush

This is from President Bush's Decision Points, at pp. 104-105:
"One of the biggest surprises of my presidency was the flood of pardon requests at the end. I could not believe the number of people who pulled me aside to suggest that a friend or former colleague deserved a pardon. At first I was frustrated. Then I was disgusted. I came to see the massive injustice in the system. If you had connections to the president, you could insert your case into the last-minute frenzy. Otherwise, you had to wait for the Justice Department to conduct a review and make a recommendation. In my final weeks in office, I resolved that I would not pardon anyone who went outside the formal channels....

A few days [after telling the Vice President that he would not pardon Scooter Libby], I talked to another person about the pardon process. On the ride up Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day, I told Barack Obama about my frustrations with the pardon system. I gave him a suggestion: announce a pardon policy early on, and stick to it."
I suppose we are to believe either 1) Bush was not aware of the press of applicants - and pardons - at the end of the Clinton administration or 2) he didn't think such a thing would happen to him!

Chronicle: Free Clarence Aaron!

In today's San Francisco Chronicle, Debra Saunders calls on President Obama to discover the pardon power and free Clarence Aaron from prison. Aaron was a first-time nonviolent federal drug law offender in 1993, when he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Saunders notes:
... his life-until-death sentence demonstrates that a system designed to be tough on drug kingpins has been subverted so that big-time dealers can do short time for testifying against their underlings ... Aaron is in prison for the rest of his life, while all but one of the career dealers have served their time and been set free.... because he was a college kid unfamiliar with the courts, Clarence Aaron did not know how to game the system
Aaron is now 41, has taken responsibility for his crimes and has had a good record in prison. Saunder also observes:
In "The Audacity of Hope," Obama wrote that he hoped he could remain honest as a U.S. Senator. As president, he cannot honestly believe that a 23-year-old first-time nonviolent drug offender should be sentenced to life without parole.
See complete column here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Florida: Morrison and Five Reasons

The Broward / Palm Beach NewTimes blog provides five reason why Jim Morison should not be pardoned. The consideration is labeled "completely misguided" and a "frivolous cause." Elaboration is provided for each reason, but here they are 1) Jim Morrison did something awful that night. 2)  Jim Morrison's legacy isn't tarnished. 3) School ties shouldn't bind 4) Jim Morrison showed no remorse. 5) Jim Morrison is dead. See full article here.

Bush to Obama on Pardons

A helpful reader informs us of the following re the new book by George W. Bush:
On p. 104-105 he talks about "flood" of requests in last days, importuning - and most important his ride up Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day: "I told Barack Obama about my frustrations with the pardon system. I gave him a suggestion:announce a pardon policy early on and stick to it."
There's more -

Washington: Reaction to Clemmons

The Seattle Times reports the Maurice Clemmons episode has resulted in at least one piece of legislation. Engrossed Substitute House Joint Resolution 4220 (aka the "no-bail amendment") was approved with more than 85 percent of the votes. According to the Times:
... it allows a judge to deny bail to persons charged with an offense punishable by life in prison. These include a third-strike felony, rape of a child, murder or other serious crimes. Before denying bail, a judge also must find clear and convincing evidence the defendant has a propensity for violence and poses a likely danger to the public. The no-bail amendment was proposed by lawmakers in direct response to last year's killing of four Lakewood police officers.
See story here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Obama: Countdown to Infamy

658 days into his administration, President Obama has shown no sign that he is aware that the Constitution gives the president clemency powers. To date, the president has not granted a single pardon or commutation of sentence. On the other hand, the U.S. Pardon Attorney (a holdover from the Bush administration) has denied record numbers of clemency applications. In 14 days, Obama will pass Bill Clinton and become the slowest Democratic president in history to exercise the pardon power - readers may recall what a mark his administration made in the matter of pardons!

Obama's negligence is anomalous for many reasons. Democratic presidents have generally been more generous with pardons than Republicans. Former lawyers have also been more generous. Obama did not come into office in the wake of a major pardon controversy left by his predecessor (as did Bush, Clinton, Eisenhower, etc.) and he should not bring the reticence one might expect in a former governor. Throw in the fact that Obama has explicitly criticized mandatory minimums and disparities in crack cocaine sentences and, well, it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Maybe, one day, someone in the national news media will bother to ask the President about this matter directly. Meanwhile the countdown is on!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Toronto Star Mocks Crist

On the news that recently defeated Governor Charlie Crist is considering a posthumous pardon of Doors "singer" Jim Morrison, the Toronto Star features an article entitled, "Want to rescue a political legacy? Pardon a rock star." The article suggests Crist is attempting to "dent the headshop T-shirt business" by pardoning the "bad poet" and "middling singer best known for being born handsome." The ending is downright lyrical:
And it is nice to know that, while running a state that will soon be underwater, Crist’s got his last-minute priorities straight. If Charlie Crist’s house was on fire, he’d be the guy trying to pull the washing machine out of the basement.
See story here.

Wisconsin: Doyle and Pardons

The Wisconsin Press Gazette notes that "despite a criticism that Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has been granting pardons at a high rate in what will be his last year in office," several "local applicants" did not have much luck before the State's Pardon Advisory Board. Doyle has actually only granted 214 pardons (and zero commutations of sentence), despite the fact that applications are increasing dramatically. The Gazette reports that a previous governor, Thompson, granted the most at 238. Doyle's processor, Scott McCallum, had 24, Tony Earl granted 202 and Lee Dreyfus granted 112. See story here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Otis v. Morison - Good Stuff !

Our readers are encouraged to visit the back and forth over at Doug Berman's Sentencing Law and Policy blog between William Otis (who wrote a famous editorial recommending a commutation of sentence for Scooter Libby) and Samuel T. Morison (former attorney adviser in the Office of the Pardon Attorney). Morison, of course, recently wrote a landmark letter to the L.A. Times explaining the sorry state of affairs in the Department of Justice re pardons.

Otis started the chat sarcastically feigning surprise at Morison's observation that Justice Department attorneys in the OPA "defend the department's prosecutorial prerogatives." He later argues OPA attorneys should not expected to be "neutral." Instead, they should deliver the "perspective of the prosecuting agency." For spice, he tosses in the suggestion that career bureaucrats do not act out of "political calculation" and bear no "political consequences" for their decisions. Referencing his own experience in the DOJ, Otis says that the suggestion that they do is "baloney."

California: Supporting Kruzan

The San Francisco Chronicle says the Governor should grant executive clemency to Sara Kruzan, who was sentenced to life without parole at the age of 16. At the same time, despite the "compelling" nature of the case, the Chronicle recognizes that her clemency application faces "long odds" with the Governor - who has only granted 7 pardons the entire time that he has been in office !

Kruzan is described as someone who was an "industriousness" youth, as well as an honor roll studnet and student body president. But she was physically abused by a mother who was addicted to drugs. The Chronicle reports Kruzan was also "molested and gang-raped by men from her neighborhood as a child." The man she shot and killed was a pimp who sexually assaulted her when she was 11 and put her to work on the streets when she was 13.

The Chronicle notes that the California Youth Authority evaluated Kruzan "and determined that she could be rehabilitated in the juvenile system ... But a judge decided that she should spend the rest of her life in prison, without the possibility of parole." Today, she is 32 year old, a model prisoner, soon to be a college graduate and recently named by correctional officers as Woman of the Year. She has also explicitly expressed remorse for her crime. See full editorial here.

Osler on Pardons, Obama and the Constitution

Former federal prosecutor and law professor Mark Osler has a piece in today's Dallas Morning News. regarding President Obama's "sorry record" in the matter of pardons. To date, Obama has not granted a single pardon or commutations of sentence and is among the slowest presidents in history to do so. Meanwhile, the Office of the Pardon Attorney (in the Department of Justice) has denied record numbers of applications.

Osler argues Obama's neglect of the power "undermines not only an important constitutional mechanism, but the values that underlay it" and says we should "expect more from a constitutional law professor who becomes president." He notes:
A president who lets his tools lay untouched in the box at a time when they are needed is simply not practicing the craft of leadership ... Mercy to those unfairly treated is an idea deeply engrained in the American consciousness and spirit, like the concepts of liberty and restraint. The framers did not lightly place the unchecked power of the pardon in the president's hands, because that power can easily be abused (as it sometimes has been). Still, they granted the executive that power with the expectation that from time to time rough edges in criminal law sometimes would have to be shaved off.
Osler also suggests there is "reason to hope" that Obama will discover the pardon power (for more than turkeys) "now that the elections are over."  We'll see! See full editorial here.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Landmark Letter Re the Pardon Power

Samuel T. Morison spent ten years working as a staff attorney in the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Those of us who communicated with him in that position, or were referred to him for assistance, always found him friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Today, the Blowback section of the L.A. Times blog features what is - in our view - a letter from Morison that constitutes no less than an important landmark in public dialog regarding the president's pardon power.

The springboard of Morison's letter is a recent Times article which argued that the president should give "great deference" to the U.S. Pardon Attorney's recommendations and "take a liberal view of the clemency power, exercising it often and on the basis of clear standards." But Morison corrects the good intentions of the Times by explaining that recent presidents have, in fact, "given far too much deference to the pardon attorney's office."

Laura H. Ingalls - Just One Flight Too Many!

Laura Houghtaling Ingalls was born in New York, but studied music and language in Vienna and Paris. She spent some time as a concert pianist, nurse, secretary, ballet dancer, and actress, but eventually made herself famous as a stunt pilot. She went on to become the first woman to graduate from a government approved flying school.

On May 3, 1930, Ingalls hopped into an airplane at Lambert-St. Louis, flew to an altitude of about eight thousand feet and started flying in loops. One hour and three minutes later, she had set a new women’s record for consecutive loops – three hundred and forty-four! The previous record had been a mere forty-six. Ingalls told reporters, afterward, that she was “terribly disappointed” that sixty-six additional loops could not be officially counted because she had to stop to pump gas from a reserve tank.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Not Your Average German Pirate

The plan was fairly simple, for its type.

Five men (four with experience at sea) would travel to New York, board the ship known as City of Sparta and seize control. If killing were necessary, so be it. Claming to be subjects of Germany, the men would find their way to the Captain’s private cabin and locate a certain chest. Inside that chest would be two thousand British pounds concealed in a bag. The men would enjoy the loot, continue to navigate the ship to their liking and become popular idols, perhaps even legends, among the German people. The brilliant nature of the scheme and seemingly high probability of its success were heartily reinforced by the fact that it was conceived under the influence of large amounts of alcohol poured in the saloons of Hoboken, New Jersey.

New Category: NOTABLES

Several readers have expressed interest in posts which have featured historical sketches and biographies of notable federal clemency recipients. With these readers in mind, we have created a new link on the right side-bar, under OTHER CATEGORIES which is entitled NOTABLES. Here, readers can see the entire collection of such posts in an single click. We understand that notability is a somewhat subjective notion, but that has rarely slowed us down before! - The Editor

Michigan: Call for Clemency

Carol Jacobsen, director of Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project at the University of Michigan is calling on the Governor to "leave a powerful legacy of human rights" by having the "courage to commute the sentences of battered women prisoners who acted to save their own lives but did not receive fair trials based on the facts of their cases." Jacobsen, writing in the Detroit Free Press, says this would be particularly appropriate as Michigan law is "seriously outdated and inadequate to address survivors of domestic violence who act in their own defense." She also notes other governors have released battered women prisoners as they left office. See full article here.

South Dakota: 10 Pardons!

Gov. Mike Rounds has followed the recommendations of the South Dakota Board of Pardons and Paroles and granted executive clemency ten individuals. Among the offenses committed were grand theft (1984), second-offense petty theft (1996), simple assault (1993), resisting arrest and underage consumption (2006), disorderly conduct (1994), driving while intoxicated (1995), simple assault and violation of a protection order (2002) and vandalism (2002). See details here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kansas: Remembering "Red Kate"

Kate Richards O’Hare (a.k.a. “Red Kate”) was the first “important” figure to be indicted under the Espionage Act. She was born in 1876 on a farm in Ottawa County, Kansas, and spent some time as a schoolteacher and bookkeeper before becoming a machinist’s apprentice. As a result, she was one of the first female members of the International Association of Machinists. The young Richard's was also deeply religious (Campbellite Disciple of Christ) and active in the Florence Crittenton Mission and Home and the Kansas City Crittenton Mission. Her sympathies were particularly directed toward the problems of alcoholism and prostitution.

She also began to familiarize herself with the writings of Henry George and attended union meetings. But the critical event in Richard's life was a dance, which featured a speech by the legendary socialist Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. The seventy-year-old Jones referred Richards to other prominent socialists and she joined a socialist group. In 1901, she enrolled in the first class of the International School of Socialist Economy, a “training school” for Socialist party workers. One year later, Richards married one of her twenty-four fellow students, Frank P. O’Hare. It actually took the two young socialists all of four days to realize that they were meant to be married (they divorced in 1938).

Mrs. O’Hare’s fame and popularity as a socialist speaker increased considerably. She was soon considered second only to Eugene V. Debs so, in 1910, a run for public office only seemed logical. O'Hare was actually the first woman to ever to run for Congress in the state of Kansas. Three socialists were already in the state legislature, but O’Hare gathered a mere five percent of the vote in a four-candidate race. She later ran for a position on the board of education in St. Louis and became the first woman to run for the United States Senate. O'Hare also ran for a seat in the Missouri state legislature. But the popularity and interest generated by her public speaking never seemed to translate into high levels of support in voting booths.

Illinois: Pardons in the Balance?

There is a lot a stake in this state's race for governor, but one matter is of particular interest to us: Governor Pat Quinn (D) has done an admirable job of trying to straighten out the bizarre clemency mess that former Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) left behind. As Quinn so artfully put it:
"Justice delayed is justice denied. My administration is fully committed to erasing this shameful log jam of cases in a methodical manner and with all deliberate speed ... We are working tirelessly to solve this problem and to make sure it never happens again."
Of course, the daunting project is something Quinn's Republican opponent, Bill Brady, may or may not have any interest in taking on ... we suspect the latter to be the case. In the past, Brady has been critical of Quinn's efforts while, at the same time, refusing to even acknowledge that there is a clemency problem and, as a consequence, offering no solutions.

Meanwhile, they are still counting the votes here in Illinois! See our coverage of Governor Quinn's clemency efforts here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New York: The Governor's Panel

At the blog of the American Constitution Society, Margaret Colgate Love has written a piece on Governor Paterson's creation of a special clemency panel in order to consider the plight of immigrants facing deportation. Love states that, "for as long as criminal conviction has been a basis for deporting a lawful resident alien, pardon - including pardon by state governors - has been a formally recognized way of avoiding this penalty." On the other hand, "pardoning has become an activity that most chief executives avoid out of fear that forgiving the wrong person may prove politically costly."

But Love sees Paterson's panel, and his "evident care" in decision making, as both "extraordinary" and "welcomed" - as well as being "within the dispensing authority federal immigration law itself gives to governors." Thus, he is "to be commended, not criticized" for deciding to using his power "in such a transparent and democratic way." Love concludes:
We should all wish [Paterson] success in this endeavor, and hope that other governors and pardoning authorities -- including President Obama, who has yet to pardon anyone, much less a deportable immigrant -- will be encouraged by his example.
See Love's full post here.

DOJ / OPA: Shifting Data Problem?

A reader notes:
If you look at the Pardon Attorney's stats this mornimg they have been canged from friday. They still do not reflect the stories (sic) numbers.
See original post and comments here. We noted that the D.O.J. visited the comments section of this particular post several times over the last few days.

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