Tuesday, December 6, 2011

ProPublica: History of Pardons

The ProPublica web page has a feature entitled "Timeline: A History of Pardons" (linked here). We have informed ProPublica of the following errors / suggestions:

1. If the page intends to say George Washington's first pardon was granted in 1794, that is incorrect. The first known Washington clemency warrant was signed in 1791. If the intent is to imply the first Whiskey Rebel pardon was granted in 1794, that is also incorrect. The first of that batch was granted in 1797.

2. U.S. v. Wilson should be dated 1833, not 1832.

3. Arthur O'Bryan was pardoned by Abraham Lincoln in 1861, not 1864.

4. Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set the leg of a fleeing John Wilkes Booth, and lied about his relationship with Booth, was pardoned in 1869, not 1868. And his pardon was not based on the grounds of innocence. This is noteworthy because the Mudd family has, for a long, long time now, tried to have his name cleared via a pardon based on an assertion of innocence.

5. It is also worthy of note that Spengler and Arnold (Lincoln assassination conspirators) were pardoned just before Andrew Johnson left office, again, in 1869, not 1868.

6. Andrew Johnson's post-Civil War decisions are best described as amnesties, not pardons.

7. Charles W. Morse was not pardoned. His prison sentence was commuted by President Taft. Furthermore, the commutation of sentence was granted in January of 1912, not 1908.

8. The ruling in Biddle is best summarize as follows: Pardons are not private acts of grace but are, instead, best thought of as the by-product of a constitutional scheme which aims to determine what is in the best interest of the public. Consequently, the thoughts, desires and wishes of the recipient are irrelevant.

9. Richard Nixon granted Jimmy Hoffa a conditional commutation of sentence, not a presidential pardon. The condition was, of course, challenged in federal court, until Hoffa had the poor taste to disappear.

11. Jimmy Carter granted an amnesty to Vietnam War era offenders.

12. George H.W. Bush did not pardon Orlando Bosch.

13. Readers should be aware that the data - which originate from the Department of Justice - are actually arranged by fiscal year, as opposed to calendar year.

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