Thursday, February 16, 2017

Neil Eggleston Stumbles in Empirical Fog

Former White House Council Neil Eggleston - a career prosecutor - thinks the "criticism" of the clemency process being dominated by career prosecutors in DOJ is "completely misguided" and "based on some sort of theoretical, potential problem," not an "actual conflict." Political scientist W. H. Humbert who - unlike Eggleston - did extensive empirical research on the pardon power (see The Pardoning Power of the President), knew people like Eggleston well, and wrote:

[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. - political scientist W.H. Humbert (1941)

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