Showing posts with label California. Show all posts
Showing posts with label California. Show all posts

Sunday, January 16, 2011

California: All Over Arnold

In a previous post (here) we noted, among other things:
... the sons and daughter of politicians deserve justice, and fair consideration, as much as anyone else. The same goes for a governor's (or president's) political allies, supporters, donors and party leaders. An individual should not be exempt from any possibility of clemency simply because they share enthusiastic support for the same party or political views as a governor, or president ...

However, when executives neglect the pardon power for long periods of time and establish a reputation for outright stinginess, it is reasonable enough to expect that any leniency in the direction of such persons will be heavily scrutinized and criticized - and deservedly so. If Schwarzenegger had granted 200 other commutations of sentence to persons whom he believed received sentences that were "too harsh," then he could at least make a respectable argument that he has a genuine concern for such circumstances. But, when he exhibits precious little interest in such matters, generally and specifically, and then moans about a supposedly overly-severe sentence given to the son of a person who is a business partner with his chief political adviser ... and during the last hours of his administration ... it stinks to high heaven, impugning his judgement, his sense of fairness and, sadly enough, the public's perception of clemency.
Case in point, a recent Los Angeles Times article which notes "the reduced prison sentence that Arnold Schwarzenegger recently extended to a political ally's son stands in stark contrast to the former governor's denial of clemency for dozens of inmates involved in similar crimes." Indeed the Times has discovered that, in at least 29 instances, the State's parole board recommended clemency for inmates serving lengthy sentences and the governor declined to act on behalf of any of them. It is also reported that 11 of those individuals had no previous criminal record. And, of course, the Times has uncovered many other significant details of theses cases. The solution? As we said before:
The solution is simple, and does not involve restricting the governor's (or the president's) power one bit. The solution is regular, consistent use of the pardon power throughout the term. The general effect would be threefold 1) The public will be educated to the fact that the typical act of clemency is (or at least can be) without controversy 2) There will be less pressure (political and personal) on executives to grant pardons and commutations at the end of the term, and less need for executives to cave in to such pressure 3) "Controversial" pardons will be be less so, because there will be a greater sense that executives are not simply reserving clemency powers for their friends and those with extraordinary access, at the last minute, when no one can be held accountable. Instead, the perception can be that pardons are for all kinds of individuals and the "notables" (who, again, are as deserving of justice and fair consideration as anyone else) are simply a few data points in a big pile.
See complete Times story here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

California: Restrict the Pardon Power?

It is reported that State Assemblyman Allan Mansoor is "proposing a constitutional amendment restricting the power of the governor to grant a pardon, reprieve or commutation." According to the report, the proposed amendment "would require the governor to give interested parties at least 30 days' notice before granting the pardon, reprieve or commutation." The sponsor says that he is "appalled" by former Governor Arnold Scwartzenegger's commutation of sentence for Esteban Nunez. He says the commutation "breaches a moral duty, is transparently political and severely undermines victims' rights in our state." See story here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

L.A. Times on Clemency

The L.A. Times provides this Q and A: "Is a governor's power to pardon criminals a valuable tool to correct unjust sentences or does it undermine the rule of law by allowing politicians to forgive offenses as personal favors? ... Legal experts contend that this vestige of a sovereign's absolute power does both."

From a historical standpoint:
The concept of a leader empowered to free prisoners harkens back to ancient Greece but was modeled for the New World on the pardon powers of the English kings, much to the consternation of the colonists who sought to exclude or at least restrict it from the U.S. Constitution, said P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Illinois, one of the few academics focused on the arcane throwback to days when law was regularly trumped by the whims of kings. "The abuse of pardons is a great tradition," Ruckman said. "Kings used to grant pardons to celebrate their birthdays, raise an army, populate colonies or just to raise money." 
Nonetheless, legal experts contend "modern day abuses are the exception." Robert Weisberg, a Stanford University constitutional law professor, says he doesn't think clemency is presenting "a serious problem," and most grants have "morally admirable purposes." Margaret Love notes governors and presidents usually experience grief only when they go "outside of the established administrative procedures" for the review of petitions. Jesse Choper, a constitutional law professor at UC Berkeley's Boalt School of Law, says the pardon power usually "gives people who are convicted of a crime yet one more opportunity to get a government office to review it and make a determination whether the sentence is unjustified or excessive." Daniel Kolkey, former legal counsel to Gov. Pete Wilson says the power is "an important check and balance, if used carefully and wisely," while recognizing "any power is prone to abuse."

See complete Times article here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

California: Reaction to Commutation of Sentence

VoiceofSanDiego.org reports City Attorney Jan Goldsmith has released a "fiery statement" re Arnold Schwarzenegger's commutation of sentence for Esteban Núñez - the son of former State Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez. It reads:
[Esteban Núñez] is a criminal who was sentenced by an experienced and well-respected Superior Court Judge. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced the sentence by over half to help his political crony's son. In doing so, he undermined the judicial system and has jeopardized public safety. This homicide occurred in the City of San Diego. I speak for the overwhelming majority of San Diegans in stating that we are appalled and angry over Mr. Schwarzenegger's conduct. It reflects poorly on him, personally, and on his legacy as governor.
Núñez received a 16-year prison sentence for his part in a 2008 murder. The district attorney (who was not consulted) is also said to have been "shocked" to hear of the commutation and of the belief that it "greatly diminishes justice for victim [and] re-victimizes his family and friends.

Reporter Will Carless wrote a great piece about the case last May (see that piece here) and observed that Núñez's court file was "stuffed with letters from important and powerful political figures and California civic leaders." See VoiceofSanDiego.org story here.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Getting Out of the Self-Created Corner

In an era of booming prison populations and governmental overreach, executives (both state and federal) essentially paint themselves into a nasty little corner when they fail to exercise the pardon power on a regular basis, throughout the term, if not with some frequency. The consequences of such behavior are predictable and yet, to no small degree, almost completely avoidable. Governor Schwarzenegger's recent commutation of sentence for the son of a former state politician is a classic example of the problem and its symptoms. It also leads one easily enough to a very  logical solution.

First, let it be said that the sons and daughter of politicians deserve justice, and fair consideration, as much as anyone else. The same goes for a governor's (or president's) political allies, supporters, donors and party leaders. An individual should not be exempt from any possibility of clemency simply because they share enthusiastic support for the same party or political views as a governor, or president. That simply flies in the face of basic notions of justice.

Monday, January 3, 2011

California: A Tale of Two Clemency Applicants

The Los Angeles Times invites its readers to consider Exhibit A: Esteban Nuñez and Exhibit B: Kevin Cooper.

On his last night in office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted the 16-year prison sentence of Mr. Nuñez to 7 years. In 2008, Nuñez participated in a knife fight on a college campus and a 22-year old man was killed. But Nuñez's father, was a former speaker of the house in the State and is currently a business partner with the Governor's chief political advisor. Says the Times:
The younger Nuñez is no prince. He and his friends went looking for a fight after being kicked out of a campus frat party, and according to prosecutors, Nuñez stabbed two other victims, who survived. He also allegedly destroyed evidence by burning clothing worn on the night of the fight and throwing knives into the Sacramento River. 
On the other hand, the Times feels Kevin Cooper (on death row) is "worthier" of clemency - despite the fact that "his dad never smoked cigars with the governor." There are  "significant doubts raised by a federal judge about the fairness of [Cooper's] murder conviction" and yet Schwarzenegger "ignored the considerable evidence in Cooper's favor. " As a consequence, "California may soon be guilty of executing an innocent man." See full editorial here.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

California: 8 Pardons, 3 Commutations

Fox 40 News (Sacramento) reports Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has granted 8 pardons 3 commutations of sentence. Among the handful of clemency recipients was Esteban Nuñez, convicted of voluntary manslaughter, who happens to be the the son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D). The commutation reduced the sentence of the former Speaker's son from 16 to 7 years. See story here.

California: Commutation of Sentence

The Washington Post reports Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - who leaves office first thing Monday - has decided to commute the sentence of 32-year old Susan Kruzan. Schwarzenegger called Kruzan's life sentence (for murder) "excessive" and commuted it to 25 years with the possibility of parole. See Post story here. See our previous coverage of the case here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

California: The Case of Kevin Cooper

Alan M. Dershowitz and David B. Rivkin Jr. have a piece in the L.A. Times which argues for executive clemency on behalf of Kevin Cooper. The piece opens with a quote from a dissenting opinion by Judge William Fletcher of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Fletcher says the State of California "may be about to execute an innocent man."

Cooper, an African-American, was convicted of murdering Doug and Peggy Ryen, their daughter and a house guest in 1985. An eight-year-old managed to survive. Cooper, had escaped from a minimum-security prison two days earlier and was hiding in an empty house nearby. On the other hand, the surviving child said the murderers were three white men. The piece also notes that, on the night of the murders, "a white man was spotted driving what was probably the Ryens' station wagon, which had been stolen. And the injuries to the victims suggested multiple weapons, not just one."

Friday, November 26, 2010

From Alcatraz to the White House

The 1991 autobiography of Nathan Glenn Williams carried the catchy title, From Alcatraz to the White House.

Williams claimed that, from the time he was a small boy, he had a “burning desire” to be a gangster. As far as he was concerned, he had "seen enough movies” to educate himself in the gangster lifestyle. So, he was convicted of burglary, car theft, robbery, assault and criminal vandalism ... all before he was fifteen years old! After adding forgery, kidnapping and discharging a firearm during the commission of a felony to the list, Williams found himself convicted of being an “habitual criminal.”

A jury of his peers needed only five hours to reach a guilty verdict decision and the judge gave him “life in prison.” During the sentencing, the judge also informed the 23-year old Williams that he was the youngest person in the United States ever to be convicted of being an habitual criminal.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

California: Supporting Kruzan

The San Francisco Chronicle says the Governor should grant executive clemency to Sara Kruzan, who was sentenced to life without parole at the age of 16. At the same time, despite the "compelling" nature of the case, the Chronicle recognizes that her clemency application faces "long odds" with the Governor - who has only granted 7 pardons the entire time that he has been in office !

Kruzan is described as someone who was an "industriousness" youth, as well as an honor roll studnet and student body president. But she was physically abused by a mother who was addicted to drugs. The Chronicle reports Kruzan was also "molested and gang-raped by men from her neighborhood as a child." The man she shot and killed was a pimp who sexually assaulted her when she was 11 and put her to work on the streets when she was 13.

The Chronicle notes that the California Youth Authority evaluated Kruzan "and determined that she could be rehabilitated in the juvenile system ... But a judge decided that she should spend the rest of her life in prison, without the possibility of parole." Today, she is 32 year old, a model prisoner, soon to be a college graduate and recently named by correctional officers as Woman of the Year. She has also explicitly expressed remorse for her crime. See full editorial here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

California: Request

Sarah Kruzan was sexually assaulted when she was 11 years old. At 13, she started work as a prostitute and was gang raped. Two months after she turned 16, she shot and killed her pimp "G.G." She was then given a life sentence. Today, the 32 year old Kruzan, a "model prisoner" is seeking a commutation of sentence from Governor Swarzenegger.  See story here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

California: Request

The Associated Press reports that Gov. Schwarzenegger has been asked to grant a pardon to Maria Rosa Sanchez, who was convicted of arson and murder for setting fire to a clothing store and killing a man in the process. Sanchez spent 23 years in prison, but was paroled in March and deported to Mexico. As a result, she is separated from her 4 children. See story here.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

California: Manson Family Member to be Paroled?

Bruce Davis, a member of Charles Manson's cheery 1970s “family,” has been recommended for parole after spending almost four decades behind bars for the role that he played in the murders of Gary Hinman and Donald Shea. The recommendation of the Board of Parole Hearings will now go to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The 67-year old Davis, who has been denied parole 23 times, is reported to have become a "born-again Christian" and has earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in philosophy of religion. Two other "family" members have been paroled (Steve Grogan and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme) while Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel remain in prison. Davis plans to spend time with his family and do some landscaping if released. See story here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

California: Mind Change

The state has over 22,000 inmates with an "immigration hold" or "likely immigration hold." The number amounts to about 13 percent of all prisoners. Governor Schwarzenegger announced that he was considering commuting the sentences of those who had a single non-violent felony, non-sexual or non-serous crimes in their background. So, this week, the legislature passed bills that would address the State's $19.9 billion budget deficit. Unfortunately, the legislation was based on the assumption that the Governor would follow through on the commutation idea. Schwarzenegger has now announce that he will not! See story here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Schwarzenegger on Polanski

People magazine is all over California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger regarding a potential pardon for Roman Polanski. This article features the following quotes from the Governor:
"It doesn't matter if you are a big-time movie actor or a big-time movie director or producer, I think that he is a very respected person, and I am a big admirer of his work. But nevertheless, I think he should be treated like everyone else ... One should look into all of the allegations, not only his allegations but the allegations about his case. Was there something done wrong? You know, was injustice done in the case?"
The People headline reads "Schwarzenneger: No Pardon for Polanski." But PardonPower fails to see how that is the proper interpretation of the remarks, even as they are yanked from context. What the Governor has clearly said is that he will consider any clemency application from Polanski as he would any other application, from any one else. And, if the Governor finds reason to grant clemency, he will. If he does not, he will not. Far from saying "no," the governor is already interested in "the case" and whether or not anything was "done wrong." If anything, the use of the word "injustice" has to be considered a plus by Polanski supporters.

Friday, January 9, 2009

California: Rejection

The Star Telegram is featuring an interesting story on 65-year old California winemaker Fred T. Franzia who was seeking a presidential pardon. Franzia paid a $500,000 fine and served five years on probation for a grape fraud case, but the Justice Department rejected his pardon application on December 23. The Star Telegram argues, however, that his "aggressive" 23-page pardon application "offers a case study in how some try to navigate the pardon process." Franzia is reported to have "rallied congressional support for his pardon bid." He also hired "one of the nation's most experienced clemency attorneys" and "one of his champions called President George W. Bush's top lawyer to press the case." See story here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

California: Call for Clemency Reform

Dr. Allen Jones, a "prison reform activist" is calling for a new clemency plan in the State. He notes the current adult prison population is 170,000 strong and believes there are "thousands" sitting there "who do not need to be there." Here is Jones' plan:

Create a clemency panel in every one of the 58 counties of the state consisting of no more than five citizens from that county. These clemency panels would rule on clemency request of NONVIOLENT prisoners who qualify under established guidelines. Under current law anyone can ask for a pardon. But under this new law only NONVIOLENT inmates could request a pardon if the prison system is over capacity or the prisoner meets other criteria.

The most likely panel members would be registered voters or those who have served on a criminal jury in that county in the past twelve months who could be paid $100 a day for their service and they would be randomly selected as is with the current jury selection process. This is far more than the $12.00 I received for my last one day
service.

"Benefits" of the plan would include "saving billions in incarceration cost" and "eliminating prison overcrowding." See additional details here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

California: A Pardon Revisited

This article, from Buffalo's Artvoice, reminds those that need reminding that country music legend Merle Haggard was once the recipient of executive clemency. In 1972, then California Governor Ronald Reagan granted a pardon to Haggard, who spent time in San Quenton for burglary. The article notes:

In a famous story from country music lore, the first time Merle Haggard met Johnny Cash he told the Man in Black how seeing him play a New Year’s Day concert in 1958 inside the walls of San Quentin prison left him a changed man. Cash admitted he didn’t recall Haggard being on the bill. Haggard replied, “I wasn’t in the show, I was in the audience.”
In a 2004 interview with CMT (here), Haggard said the pardon was a complete surprise:

Absolutely. They kept it under wraps. There was some effort on my brother-in-law's part, who was part of the Reagan team when he was on the West Coast, and my brother-in-law was friends with [Reagan adviser] Michael Deaver and people who were in a position to examine my case, and they found that I was improperly convicted and had no representation because I was poor and things of that nature, and ... 12 Supreme Court judges and Ronald Reagan -- the governor -- found it right to pardon me. God, it meant everything.
Haggard returned the favor by playing at a Reagan Ranch party and calling for Reagan's image to appear on Mount Rushmore! Interestingly, the Artvoice article notes Haggard was out "in late 2007 stumping for Hillary Clinton, even writing a song for her." PardonPower apologizes for failing to add Haggard's name to the list of those supporting Clinton who had been pardoned (see post here).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

California: Call for Clemency Reform

Today's Los Angeles Times features an editorial which asserts now common themes in such discussions. Among other things, it notes:
There are thousands of nonviolent inmates overcrowding our prison system. But those who are bent on keeping them locked up are supposed to have the answer for finding beds for mentally ill inmates? The wrong people are making public safety decisions at a cost of billions of dollars.The solution is simple. The California courts and the governor are too overworked to be bothered with releasing nonviolent inmates. But a new clemency system that supersedes all clemency laws in the state could be used to release a nonviolent golf club thief. Each county could be tasked with releasing those who qualify. A five-member panel could be paid for service and consist of average citizens who vote and have served on a jury in their county.These clemency panels could free up 10,000 prison beds in less than a year without risking public safety.
See full editorial here.

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