Take Illinois Governor Pat Quinn - who governs in an environment as pressurized as any governor in America. Quinn has made an admirable effort to address the backlog of clemency petitions left by former governor (and current federal prison inmate Rod Blagojevich). Altogether, Quinn has granted 994 petitions, a number that includes 973 pardons.
Pardon controversies ? ZERO. And where is the reporting on that?
On the other hand, there another face of clemency, the face that just about always gets the attention (however sloppy) of the media: the tough cases, the cases where reasonable people can disagree, and idiots can skew the facts just enough to smear a political opponent, or generate funds from the most volatile donors. If Governor Quinn sticks to his guns, he will eventually step into this territory. Many governors do. But they tend to do so at the last minute, as their terms are expiring, and after years of inactivity / neglect. Thus, they exacerbate the potential for controversy, not so much by use and abuse, as by disuse and stupidity.
Katie Shephard, a law student at Northwestern University Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, is calling on Quinn to address a "pending petition" for one Robert Taylor. Taylor is one of the so-called Dixmoor Five, "teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of rape and murder and then exonerated after spending nearly two decades in prison." Shephard notes Taylor "still has a related felony conviction on his record" (violation of a bail bond, when he was 19 years old). Writes Shephard:
After spending almost 20 years in prison, Robert and the other five boys were proven innocent when DNA taken from the victim’s body was matched to a known sex offender. At age 34, Robert was released from prison and awarded a certificate of innocence. Robert’s record is now clear of the rape and murder convictions. But the jumping bail conviction remains.The piece also makes these powerful, noteworthy observations:
In July 2012, we represented Robert at a clemency hearing before the Prisoner Review Board, which makes a recommendation to the governor. We asked for a full pardon for Robert for the bail bond conviction. Unique and extraordinary circumstances such as Robert’s are exactly why the governor has the power to pardon. Clemency is about mercy when the criminal justice system is too harsh. It provides flexibility for situations like Robert’s where technically, yes, he broke the law, but extraordinary circumstances greatly diminish his moral culpability. This remaining conviction hinders Robert’s ability to move on with his life. Many jobs are not an option for Robert. In fact, Robert lost his first job after his release because he failed a background check. Each time he fills out a job application, he suffers the embarrassment of disclosing this conviction. It is a painful reminder of his two decades of incarceration and injustice and limits his ability to provide for his one-year-old son.See full editorial here.