Monday, January 10, 2011

L.A. Times on Clemency

The L.A. Times provides this Q and A: "Is a governor's power to pardon criminals a valuable tool to correct unjust sentences or does it undermine the rule of law by allowing politicians to forgive offenses as personal favors? ... Legal experts contend that this vestige of a sovereign's absolute power does both."

From a historical standpoint:
The concept of a leader empowered to free prisoners harkens back to ancient Greece but was modeled for the New World on the pardon powers of the English kings, much to the consternation of the colonists who sought to exclude or at least restrict it from the U.S. Constitution, said P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Illinois, one of the few academics focused on the arcane throwback to days when law was regularly trumped by the whims of kings. "The abuse of pardons is a great tradition," Ruckman said. "Kings used to grant pardons to celebrate their birthdays, raise an army, populate colonies or just to raise money." 
Nonetheless, legal experts contend "modern day abuses are the exception." Robert Weisberg, a Stanford University constitutional law professor, says he doesn't think clemency is presenting "a serious problem," and most grants have "morally admirable purposes." Margaret Love notes governors and presidents usually experience grief only when they go "outside of the established administrative procedures" for the review of petitions. Jesse Choper, a constitutional law professor at UC Berkeley's Boalt School of Law, says the pardon power usually "gives people who are convicted of a crime yet one more opportunity to get a government office to review it and make a determination whether the sentence is unjustified or excessive." Daniel Kolkey, former legal counsel to Gov. Pete Wilson says the power is "an important check and balance, if used carefully and wisely," while recognizing "any power is prone to abuse."

See complete Times article here.

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