Wednesday, March 30, 2011

North Carolina: Trivial Pardon Killer

The Caswell Messanger has an interesting story on Sterling Carter, "local teen" who is now being credited with having sunk the attempt by the North Carolina legislature to further trivialize the pardon power by granting a pardon to someone most North Carolinians have never even heard of, and who died many years ago.

Carter is reported to have been "taken aback" when heard of the attempt to grant a posthumous pardon to former North Carolina governor William Holden (who was impeached). The stated reason for the pardon was that Holden tried to "stop the violence being caused by the Ku Klux Klan." Which is to say that, in addition to being purely irrelevant symbolic nonsense, it was also an opportunity to cast aspersions on anyone and everyone who did not sheepishly go along with the dance.

Carter notes - as we have previously - that Holden himself opposed efforts on his behalf to obtain pardon. Carter also notes Holden actually sent soldiers into North Carolina counties to "spy" on Klan activity, which did not include violence. When violence did erupt, it was caused by Holden's spies. See full story here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Illinois: Ryan. Just Trying to be Nice

The Chicago Sun Times reports tape recordings suggest former Gov. George Ryan "admitted in a recently released court deposition that he 'didn’t understand' the difference between two major types of pardons" granted him by the State Constitution. As the Sun Times explains it, the governor can grant a "general pardon" - "that forgives a crime, but it doesn’t forget it" or an "innocence pardon" - that "erases the crime from an inmate’s record." The latter form of clemency also "allows a person who was wrongly convicted to file a lawsuit and try to seek damages."

Oscar Walden Jr. has sued Chicago for $15 million, claiming police officers physically abused him and forced a confession for a rape. He was granted a general pardon in 1978, but other governors subsequently denied his requests for an innocence pardon, which was eventually granted by Ryan, in 2002. When questioned, under oath, regarding the kinds of pardon he granted this happened:
Ryan’s answer: “I don’t know if there is or not. I learned, though, that Thompson gave a pardon based on whatever — just a general pardon. I didn’t realize that probably until just recently. Then, I gave a pardon based on innocence. Maybe at the time I didn’t understand that. I don’t know.”

Kamionski: “OK. And is that your understanding that both a general pardon and an innocence pardon, they both are given to people who are, in fact, innocent of the crimes that they committed?”

Ryan: “Yeah, I don’t know why else we’d give a pardon if you, as the pardoning agent, didn’t believe that that was the case. I don’t know why you’d give a pardon.”

Kamionski: “And when — and that the only thing that you were doing different with an innocence pardon was giving somebody almost like a right-to-sue letter?”

Ryan: “Well, I didn’t understand that at the time. I think — I thought — it maybe spelled it out more clearly that this was an innocent person that was wrongfully convicted and charged and imprisoned and to make it clear for the record that he was innocent.”
Ryan only granted 212 pardons as governor, and the Times reports that 28 of them were innocence pardons. See full story here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Oklahoma: Parole and the Governor

The Oklahoman reports that the State's "rate of parole for inmates is far too low and that this is costly — very costly — to taxpayers." A 2007 audit found the parole approval rate to be 18 percent and recommended that the governor be removed from all but the most "serious" cases. But, as of today, the governor still signs off on every parole and a new study finds the parole rate to be 11 percent. Since paroles are becoming "very uncommon" and "increasingly rare,” more inmates are opting to simply seek release without restrictions. The State legislature is considering a bill which would remove the governor cases involving nonviolent criminals, and would expand eligibility for "community sentencing and GPS tracking upon release." See complete story here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Florida: Heavy Workload + Delay = Fun. Clemency Not!

The Miami Herald reports that Gov. Rick Scott has actually said that exercising the clemency power is not particularly "fun." On the other hand, the "most fun" thing, according to Scott, is having an impact on state policy. The Governor is also reported to have said that he feels "sorry" for people who "made mistakes when young" and that he "believes in forgiveness." The evidence?
One of his first decisions as head of the Board of Executive Clemency to end the automatic restoration of voting and other civil rights for thousands of non-violent felons who have completed their sentences. That will increase the board's workload and delay decisions in those cases. 
See story here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wyoming: Applying "Inside" the Beltway

The Blog of the Legal Times reports that Charles Rumsey, Jr. has had just about enough of waiting for a presidential pardon. So, the Harvard Law School graduate who pleaded guilty to wire fraud in the 1990s is now seeking the assistance of  a "Washington lobby shop" the TCH Group (and Michael Tongour in particular) "in an effort to build his case."

The Blog says hiring a lobbyist for such a purpose is "rare," on the basis of "a search of U.S. Senate records." It is also reported that Rumsey has given "thousands of dollars to Democratic and Republican committees over the years." See story here.

We find it worthy of note that only 29 percent of successful clemency applicants in the administration of George W. Bush were represented by lawyers. But the location of the top seven firms was as follows:

Location of Law Firm
District of Columbia
South Carolina

Friday, March 18, 2011

Maryland: O'Malley at work, "No. No. No. No. No. No. No."

Gov. Martin O'Malley has come under fire for his failure to any action at all on a stack of recommendations re clemency forwarded to him by the State's Parole Commission. Some of the recommendations have been sitting on O'Malley's desk since the day he stepped into office (way back in January of 2007). Perhaps in direct response to the rising tide of criticism, Governor O'Malley has acted in dramatic fashion: by denying commutations for seven inmates who are serving life sentences (each having been in prison since the 1970s). O'Malley is said to be "unavailable" for comment, but few suspect a bold new day for clemency has arrived in Maryland.

Meanwhile, a committee in the  State's Senate has voted to allow governors 180 days to object to the Commission’s recommendation. Absent such an objection, an inmate will then be automatically released. The State's House has passed a similar resolution with a 90-day deadline. Some State legislators are said to be interested in taking the governor "out of the parole process altogether." See story here and here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Maryland: Calls for Reform

The Baltimore Sun is taking Governor Martin O'Malley to task for whatever he is doing while 50 recommendations for parole submitted to him by the Maryland Parole Commission have been sitting on his desk. The Sun recognizes that the "politics of parole" are "terrible," and that O'Malley "made his name as a tough-on-crime Baltimore mayor."  A spokesman is reported to have explained that the Governor is giving the cases the serious consideration they deserve. Says the Sun:
The public often has little sympathy for convicts serving life sentences who are waiting for parole decisions. After all, they committed terrible crimes — most often, first-degree murder — to get in that position in the first place. But effectively eliminating the possibility of parole, whether as a matter of policy or by default, fundamentally changes the nature of the sentences the inmates were given. If judges had meant to give them life without the possibility of parole, they would have done so.
In response to this situation, the State's House of Delegates has passed legislation which would activate positive parole recommendations after 90 days, if the governor is too busy to address the issue. According to the Sun, this would put Maryland "in line with the vast majority of states, where decisions about parole are handled entirely by an independent, professional parole board." The State's Senate is also said to be "considering" a law that would "take the governor out of the process altogether." See story here.

Quote of the Day: The Same as It Ever Was

[Criticism of the pardon power] has occurred sporadically and has pointed to the necessity for greater circumspection by the pardoning authority rather than to the need for restriction of presidential action or for modification of the pardoning process. Recommendations on applications for clemency of United States Judges and Attorneys should not be relied upon to as great an extent in the future as in the past in deciding what should be done with applications for clemency. [There] are reasons demanding that recommendations from these official should be scrutinized very carefully.

Because of the nature of the information which a judge received on a case, because of the danger of partiality which the experiences of a judge in criminal cases engender, and because of insufficient time to collect facts relevant to a decision in clemency cases, the United States Judge's recommendations should be critically examined. The judges imposed the sentence and they are loathe to admit any error in their original sentence.

[This] last objection applies with equal force to the practice of relying upon the recommendation of the United States Attorneys . The United States Attorneys who frequently reach their offices because of political preferment, are often fired with a zeal to make a record by numerous convictions in order to secure further promotion. Their ardor may bring out a great number of convictions, some of which are unwarranted. But will these men be wiling, afterwards, to recommend clemency in the cases in which over-zealousness brought about a wrongful conviction or too severe a sentence?

[More] security to both the pardoning authority and the applicants for clemency and better results in the use of the pardoning power would probably be produced by creating a small board, equipped with a staff to make impartial studies of detailed data on each applicant for clemency, including the data submitted by the United States Attorneys and Judges, a board clothed with the present authority of the pardon attorney to make recommendations on applications for clemency to the Attorney General and the President. [Such] a process would definitely fix responsibility for action, promote greater uniformity of treatment, and obviate the necessity for relying to as great extent as at present upon recommendations from the United States Judges and Attorneys and from other officials.

Better use of the pardoning power, not abandonment of it, should be sought. The errors which occur in the administration of justice provide a sufficient reason for retention of the pardoning power in the government of the United States. There comes, moreover, a time during the incarceration of the more intelligent prisoners when clemency to them, in the proper form, will be productive of a more good both to them and to society than would ensure from insistence upon strict observance of the sentences. [By] granting clemency at the proper juncture, a social attitude may be created and the development of a vindictive spirit on the part of the convict may be avoided. Something may be lost thereby in the way of certainty of execution of sentence but compensation may be looked for through the restoration of the convict as a useful member of society.
- W.H. Humbert (1941)

Arkansas: 6 Pardons

Governor Mike Beebe has announced his intent to grant six pardons. In addition, he has denied 27 clemency requests from both inmates and non-inmates. Each of the six has "completed all jail time, fulfilled all parole-and-probationary requirements and paid all fines related to their sentences." Among the offense pardoned: Battery, Domestic Abuse, Possession of Controlled Substance, Obstructing Governmental Operations, Theft by Receiving, Disorderly Conduct, Burglary, Theft of Property, Delivery of Controlled Substance, Possession of Controlled Substance. See press release here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Scholarship: Humbert Online!

We are pleased to announce that we have added W. H. Humbert's classic, The Pardoning Power of the President, to our Online Bookshelf listings (left column).

North Carolina: Legislative Pardon for Dead People ... PERFECT!

The Charlotte Observer is featuring an article on what appears to be the latest political fad: considering clemency for still yet another dead person. With even casual observation, one can notice that, in most instances, the only dead people worthy of consideration for clemency these days are those who were once famous / influential or those who happened to be associated with some horrid incident that hasn't just quite yet disappeared in the recesses of the public's memory, or the memory of some enthusiastic writer or film maker. The latest dead potential pardon recipient? A former Governor of the State of North Carolina.

Per usual, this would supposedly be an act of clemency that would "right a wrong." That "wrong" took place about a century and half ago. But, according to the Observer, it is still a matter which is red-hot, burning and fresh, deep in the conscience of the citizens of North Carolina, a place which is "still coming to grips with actions of the 19th and 20th centuries against black people."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Florida: Nothing is Automatic!

The Board of Executive Clemency in the State has, in a 4-0 decision, rolled back state rules enacted just four years ago (under Charlie Christ) which had the effect of allowing more than 100,000 ex-felons to vote in 2008. Under the new rules, nonviolent offenders will have to wait five years after the conclusion of their sentences to apply for restoration of their civil rights. Violent offenders will have to wait at least seven years. A spokesperson for the State's Attorney  General says there is "philosophical" opposition to the "concept of automatic restoration of civil rights."  Critics, however, complain that the policy will "suppress" vote turnout. See story here and here.

Illinois: 15 Commutations of Sentence

The Chicago Tribune reports Governor Pat Quinn (D) has signed into law "a historic ban on the death penalty in Illinois" and, while he was at it, commuted the sentences of 15 death row inmates (to life in prison without the possibility of parole).

Quinn explained his decision as an act of "conscience," made after Bible reading and "deep personal reflection." He said the decision was the "right" thing to do because we "cannot escape history." More specifically, he argued that there was "no way" to design a "perfect" death penalty system that was free from "the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment."

Previously, Quinn claimed to support the death penalty for the very worst crimes. But the Tribune notes that, today, he finds no "credible evidence" that the death penalty has a "deterrent effect." Without naming particular programs, he also said the money spent on the "death penalty system" could be better spent "on preventing crime and assisting victims' families in overcoming pain and grief." See story here.

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