Friday, December 18, 2015

National Journal on Clemency in the States

The National Journal is featuring a piece on clemency in the states and the case of one Lydia Garcia Ortiz in particular. Garcia was charged for "lead­ing a ring that traf­ficked an es­tim­ated $5 mil­lion of co­caine from New York City to Rochester." At the time, New York's Rock­e­feller drug laws "im­posed severe sen­tences for non­vi­ol­ent drug crimes." A judge offered a three year sentence for her testimony or a prediction of twenty five years if she insisted on a trial. So, Garcia fled, and remained a fugitive for 14 years, until 2003, when she was 58 years old. Garcia stepped out of prison in October of 2015, her sentence commuted by Governor Cuomo.

Re clemency in the states, the piece observes:
... In re­cent dec­ades, an era where politi­cians don’t want to be seen as soft on crime, the clem­ency power has be­come polit­ic­ally dan­ger­ous, ex­plained P.S. Ruck­man, Jr., polit­ic­al-sci­ence pro­fess­or at North­ern Illinois Uni­versity and au­thor of the Par­don Power Blog.
The most ex­treme ‘no clem­ency’ state is Wis­con­sin, where Walk­er has made it a policy to not grant any. “There are oth­er gov­ernors who may have the same at­ti­tude, but they don’t an­nounce it. They just don’t par­don people, or they par­don very rarely,” Ruck­man said. But he said there is no state where the gov­ernor is known for “hand­ing clem­en­cies out like candy.”
Though it hasn’t made sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ence in the num­bers yet, Ruck­man thinks that there is a shift in na­tion­al at­ti­tudes to­wards clem­en­cies. In New York, the fact that a gubernat­ori­al hope­ful, Zephyr Teachout, stood for clem­ency re­form, he says, is telling. New Jer­sey Gov­ernor, Chris Christie, who is seek­ing the Re­pub­lic­an Party nom­in­a­tion for pres­id­ent, re­cently pardoned a man for a drug re­lated of­fense, say­ing, “This is no gift from me. This is something John’s earned.” 
Ruck­man’s home state of Illinois, has seen a bit of change in par­don­ing cul­ture over the past few gubernat­ori­al terms. Fol­low­ing the now-in­car­cer­ated former gov­ernor Rod Blago­jevich, who gran­ted zero clem­en­cies dur­ing his term, Pat Quinn, a Demo­crat, gran­ted 1,752 re­quests and denied 3,014—a rate of grants re­por­ted to be among the highest for any gov­ernor at that time. The cur­rent gov­ernor, Bruce Rau­ner, a Re­pub­lic­an, has taken steps to main­tain a healthy clem­ency sys­tem. Rau­ner re­views ap­plic­a­tions on a reg­u­lar cycle. Since tak­ing of­fice last Janu­ary, he has gran­ted 21 clem­en­cies, in four batches.
... A healthy clem­ency sys­tem, Ruck­man said, is one that re­views ap­plic­a­tions in a sys­tem­at­ic fash­ion on a reg­u­lar basis. He points to Arkan­sas as a good ex­ample of a state where par­dons are giv­en at a healthy rate. “In Arkan­sas, the gov­ernors reg­u­larly par­don—not hun­dreds of thou­sands, but two here five here, ten there, that type of thing,” he said.

See full article here.

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