Sunday, May 13, 2012

Arizona: Inside Jan Brewer's Cluster

Bob Ortega has written an excellent piece at the Arizona Republic on clemency in that state. It begins with this happy note:
Statistically, if you are convicted of a felony in Arizona, you are more likely to be struck by lightning than granted clemency by the governor. Excluding the cases of inmates nearing the end of a terminal illness, Brewer is on track to grant the fewest clemency cases in more than two decades -- even when a judge and unanimous board recommend a shorter sentence. Recent board members interviewed by The Arizona Republic believe clemency will be granted even less frequently in the future.
Ortega says Arizona adopted increasingly inflexible mandatory sentences over the last 30 years and the state's prison population has increased "eight-fold." Meanwhile, clemency has decreased, in part, because budget cuts "have reduced the number of clemency cases the board can hear to one-fourth as many as three years ago." The result is a "nearly two-year, 900-case backlog." The costs?
This withering of clemency brings both personal fallout, in ruined lives and separated families, and a financial cost to taxpayers, who pay to house and feed inmates [at $22,000 a year] who could otherwise be working and paying taxes.
Rachel Barkow says, "It's very worrisome because we have a system now in which almost nobody has discretion to fix an injustice. With mandatory sentencing, the judge can't do anything; the jury isn't told what the sentence will be. The only check on the system, the only safety valve, is clemency."

Brewer has "routinely denied unanimous board recommendations for clemency" as nameless faceless spokespersons insist that she "fulfills this solemn responsibility with the seriousness owed, and always mindful of the victims harmed by these crimes."
Perhaps the most-debated commutation rejected by Brewer is the case of William Macumber, who was convicted in 1975 of a 1962 double homicide and sentenced to life in prison. In a unanimous recommendation three years ago, the board said he had served excessive time in prison and had a record of behavior showing he is not a threat to society. Most importantly, the board called his conviction a miscarriage of justice, saying that "the evidence that now exists certainly casts serious doubt on Mr. Macumber's conviction." 
Former state Judge Thomas O'Toole told the board that another man confessed to committing the murders to him in 1967, but attorney-client privilege required him to remain silent about the confession until after his client died. 
... Brewer denied commutation in November 2009, sparking critical national-media coverage. In October 2010, Brewer fled her own televised news conference after Macumber's son asked the governor about her decision.
"The parole board says he's innocent, yet she still won't do anything," says P.S. Ruckman Jr., an Illinois political-science professor who publishes a blog on clemency, He is highly critical of Brewer and other governors who he says don't appear to take their pardon powers seriously. "Sometimes the law has a disproportionate impact and may be too rigid. That's what the pardon power is for," he says. "Brewer has the power and discretion to have a larger sense of justice and to do something about it. That's her duty."
Gov. Rose Mofford (April 4, 1988 to March 6, 1991): 13 pardons, 2 commutations.
Gov. Fife Symington III (March 6, 1991 to Sept. 5, 1997): 13 pardons, 16 commutations.
Gov. Jane Dee Hull (Sept. 5, 1997 to Jan 6, 2003): 7 pardons, 28 commutations.
Gov. Janet Napolitano (Jan. 6, 2003 to Jan. 21, 2009): 22 pardons, 34 commutations (including 9 "imminent danger of death" cases).
Gov. Jan Brewer (since Jan. 21, 2009): 0 pardons, 24 commutations (including 19 "imminent danger of death" cases).
Except for "imminent danger of death" cases, Brewer has not granted a commutation since Dec. 15, 2010.

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