Thursday, September 15, 2016

Unprecedented Commutations? We Think Not.

Gregory Korte of USA Today notes that "as [President] Obama has begun to grant commutations to inmates convicted of more serious crimes, [he] has increasingly commuted their sentences without immediately releasing them." Sentences are being commuted to end at a later date. Korte goes on to note that "before last month, almost all of the inmates whose sentences were commuted were released within four months." But, "in the last two rounds of presidential clemency in August, 39% of commutations come with a long string attached: a year or more left to serve on the sentence." Former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Colgate Love says, dramatically: :
"There are a number of cases where it’s a genuine re-sentencing. It’s unprecedented ... That signals to me that the power is being used in a way it’s never been used before.”
We disagree.

Admittedly, we have no idea what the basis is for Love's statement. We only know what we know, based on the data that we have taken the time to collect, from 1789 to present. On the front end of the data, "pardon and release" was the language used for what we call, today, "commutation of sentence." Prisoners were frequently pardoned, and ordered to be released at a later date.

As we coded "commutations" (heading further into the 1800s), we certainly noticed many (several hundreds) of examples of situations where sentences were commuted to end at a later date. For some period of time, we coded these examples "C-LD" (as opposed to "C-AO" - commutation at once / to time served). But, frankly, we just stopped doing so. Because they (C-LD's) were so common and we realized that even basic commutations featured later releases. As we also told Mr. Korte, "Finding such a thing is comparable to finding a dollar on the sidewalk. It doesn't happen every day but, when it does happen, it is probably not worth calling USA Today about."

T.Roosevelt commuted 88 sentences to end at a "later date" in his first term
Put another way, there is nothing much unprecedented about this form of clemency, or even this style of commutations of sentence. Indeed, we expected such as a possibility in the case of border agents Compean and Romos (see our commentary here). Maybe the length of time left remaining in Obama's commutations is longer than usual. Maybe. But that is something to be studied and verified, empirically, not simply asserted. And the President may very well be employing this method more often than his predecessors but, of course, he is also commuting more sentences. See story here.

No comments:

blogger templates | Make Money Online