Showing posts with label Comment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Comment. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

PardonResearch.Com is on the Way!

I will be building the skeletal outline for this morning (until noon or so) and will be constantly posting updated versions as I go. It is also my intention to at least start posting conference papers that used to be housed at If you would like to see it all happen, as it happens, feel free to stop by. Likewise, I am open for suggestions, especially in the early stages. Best,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

George Ryan Ad Nauseum

 Because of some changes in my driving habits, I've become a fan of WLS 890 AM, Chicago. The format is news and talk. There is an interesting lineup of morning shows and the conversations move along well. To top it off, the local hosts (Don Wade and Roma, Roe Conn, Cisco Cotto) are smart, witty and pleasant to spend time with. My only problem with it all is that I don't know the secret code that actually gets one past the "screener" and on the air. I have tried announcing myself as "professor" and even an "expert" from time to time. No go. I have also tried low-profile-average-guy-lucky-to-be-here approach. Nothing doing.

Today's topic: the possible pardon of former Illinois Governor George Ryan. Don't know why I even thought I had a chance of getting on the air!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Obama on "Second Chances"

Politico reports the following exchange at a recent "town hall" meeting:
A SECOND CHANCE: A 29-year-old ex-felon says he can't find a job because employers are wary. In response, Obama acknowledges "people who have made mistakes, particularly when they’re young." “I don’t blame employers being nervous about hiring someone with a record," he says. "On the other hand, one of the great things about America is that we give people second chances." (2:38 p.m.)
To date, Obama has not granted a single presidential pardon or commutation of sentence. He is the fourth slowest president in the entire history of the United States to do so and will soon be passing John Adams to take over third place!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

White House Aide Lies to CBS News Re Pardons

The CBS Political Hotsheet (here) notes President Obama has yet to grant a single pardon or commutation of sentence. But it also notes:
A White House aide says first year presidents are inundated with pardon petitions and usually don't grant any until after "an extensive review process is conducted at the Justice Department." George W. Bush granted no executive clemency his first year either, except for turkeys.
Aside from the fact that Mr. Obama promised more than "business as usual" and his supporters rarely consider Bush a benchmark for anything important, there are several things wrong with the "aide"s analysis.

First, President Obama has gone 366 days without granting a single pardon or commutation of sentence. The average "extensive review" - for every administration since George Washington - has resulted in a first pardon or commutation in only 122 days. If George Washington is removed the analysis, the number falls to a mere 80 days. Regardless, the Obama administration is distinct for its presence among the very slowest acting administrations ever.

Friday, January 8, 2010

No More Horton, Please. Thank You.

Today, former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Colgate Love writes in the National Law Journal, "The American public is tired of hearing about Willie Horton." The observation is, of course, prompted by the media recent "reporting" of the Maurice Clemmons' case in Arkansas (see our discussion of the Top Ten Clemency Stories of 2009). Love rightly notes:

Although attacks on chief executives related to particular pardons are nothing new in our history, never before has mere anticipation of attack ­succeeded in shutting down the pardon power altogether. With a few notable exceptions, recently governors and presidents alike have let their constitutional power atrophy, fearful of being labeled soft on crime or of being held personally responsible for a heinous act that might even tenuously be linked to them. Pardons and commutations have become essentially unavailable in many states and in the federal system ...

Of course, the problem is exacerbated where parole has been abolished and records are not easily expunged. In sharp contrast to the politics of the day: almost all of American history! Love notes the pardon power has "played an integral operational part in the justice system" and "there is no time in memory when it has been more necessary to a just system."

Love notes polls and blog posts suggest "many" are convinced Huckabee acted reasonably in the Clemmons case and is encouraged by the "renewed sense of purpose" apparent in Ohio and Illinois. Programs of responsible pardoning are well worth emulation. See complete editorial here.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Top Ten Clemency Stories of 2009

 10: In April, Senator John McCain announced that he would, once again, push for a presidential pardon on behalf of the long-dead boxer, Jack Johnson. Bill Clinton was the first president to ever issue a posthumous pardon (to the first African-American graduate of West Point, Henry Flipper). With good reason, every administration previous to Clinton refused to even entertain such applications. George Bush granted two posthumous pardons (one to Charlie Winters, the other unintentionally). But toward the end of this year, the Obama administration indicated that it would return to the policy of using the pardon power for the more practical purpose of providing real relief for those who are living (no offense to to the shallow, desperate, well-after-the-fact and purely symbolic politics of Congress, the least popular branch).

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chronicle: Obama Defies Expectations

Democratic presidents have been more generous with pardons than Republicans. Former governors have been more stingy. On the other hand, those who have come to the White House with training as a lawyer have been more generous with clemency powers. Presidents who have followed late-term, four-star pardon scandals (in previous administrations) have been more hesitant, at first, to grant pardons. Put it all together, and you just might expect something like an instant regular, if not vital, clemency program from the Obama administration. Instead, Mr. Obama and his Department of Justice are on a record setting pace for doing nothing at all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Call for Mass Clemency

At the Huffington Post, Jacob M. Appel notes that the United States now has "the highest incarceration rate in the world--more than 1 in every 100 Americans in currently behind bars." For that reason, he says, "our nation is long overdue for a mass clemency of non-violent felons and those unlikely to re-offend. Such a collective pardon and commutation would reunite hundreds of thousands of families, save billions of dollars in incarceration costs, and might foster a national spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation." Read his complete argument here.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Clemency Considerations

Laura Dean, at the American Prospect, worries that the reaction to Mike Huckabee's commutation of the sentence of Maurice Clemmons (or the media's coverage of the commutation) "may deter other governors from granting clemency at all." But Dean is also disturbed by some distinctions which are made in Radley Balko's recent piece for Reason Magazine (full text here).

Balko makes the point that most clemency decisions take the form of pardons granted to persons who have served their time, taken care of associated fines and fees, shown evidence of rehabilitation and/or integration into the community and, as such, seek only to have their rights restored. In such circumstances, clemency does not appear to be so much as a check or balance with respect to the other branches of government, as it does an act of mercy.

Reason Magazine on Clemency

Radley Balko is a senior editor for Reason Magazine and sometime reader of this blog. We spoke together for some time last week and this piece is now available online. Balko brought some fairly distinct views of clemency to the conversation, but it was also clear that he had researched the topic beforehand. As a result, his piece takes a much-appreciated extra effort to write about Mike Huckabee's commutation of sentence for Maurice Clemmons in a manner that is exact and informative. Just a few excerpts are enough to illustrate that this read is a cut above what has appeared to date and well worth the read :
... "It's useful to think of the pardon as another check in our system of checks and balances," says P.S. Ruckman, who runs the Pardon Power blog and is the author of the forthcoming book Pardon Me, Mr. President: Adventures in Crime, Politics and Mercy. "That check could take the form of freeing someone who is innocent. But it could also take the form of a policy disagreement." Ruckman points to President Woodrow Wilson, who pardoned dozens of violators of the Volstead Act because of his objections to alcohol prohibition.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Politico: Palin Can't Resist Piling On

The Politico reports Sarah Palin is now in on the inaccurate and after-the-fact piling on of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Palin is reported to have said that Huckabee made a “horrible decision” nine years ago when he commuted the prison sentence of Maurice Clemmons, making Clemmons eligible for parole.

Palin is not known to have said anything about the Clemmons commutation over the last nine years. Nor are we aware that she has ever been critical of Huckabee's interest in the clemency power generally. It is only now, nine years after the fact, that she says, "It was a bad decision obviously." The Politico also reports:

As governor of Alaska, she said she had never been in the position of having to grant a prisoner clemency, adding that “most Alaskans know me well enough to know that I don’t have a whole lot of mercy for the bad guys.”

“I’m on the good guys’s side,” she said. “I’m all about redemption and recovery and reform and all that. But I will always error on the side of punishing even stricter, even harder on the bad guys.”

Outstanding. If a person is about to be executed and there is some evidence of innocence, Palin will err "on the side of punishing" and go ahead with the execution! Brilliant. See complete Politico piece here.

Margaret Carlson: From the Back of the Pack!

We have all had weeks now to digest the case of Maurice Clemmons, to get the facts right and to engage in insightful analysis. Now comes the plodding Margaret Carlson with this gem: We simply were not critical enough of Huckabee. The evidence? See the treatment of clemency decision making by George W. Bush, Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton.

To Carlson's credit, she spares us the agony of having to read, once again, that Huckabee "pardoned" Clemmons, or that Huckabee's commutation of sentence kicked Clemmons right out onto your local street corner. No, Carlson writes: "Huckabee set in motion the parole from a 95-year sentence that put Clemmons back on the street" (the media simply cannot avoid the compelling imagery of the street)!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Newspaper Man Against Pardons

Gary Dickson is the publisher and editor of the Lake County (CA) Record-Bee. And today's issue features an editorial explaining why Mr. Dickson does not "believe" in "presidential pardons, governor commutations or early release programs." Dickson's commentary is pointed, but often without focus. It appears to inform, but actually misleads. He can at least be given credit for writing what many others probably think, but do not actually come out and say.

Dickson asks, rhetorically, "Whatever happened to 'You do the crime you do the time?'" and insists that "it doesn't work that way" in America any more because we "are soft toward criminals." Of course, the pithy rhetorical response to Dickson's question is that "Doing the time went out the window - and rightly so - back when we also tossed out the equally important notion that the punishment should fit the crime." He does not appear to be aware of the fact that mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes laws and the like have been crippling the judicial systems' ability to tailor punishments to crimes. One has to also wonder how the massive prison population of this country squares with his "soft toward criminals" perspective.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More Clemency, Not Less

PardonPower shares the sentiment of columnist Debra J. Saunders who writes the following in this editorial:
... I am especially angry at Huckabee because I support the pardon system. With so many nonviolent, first-time drug offenders serving long federal sentences, there should be more -- not zero -- sentence commutations from the Obama White House.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hat Tip to the Old Man

I remember several of my high school teachers encouraging me to read the newspaper, "at least once a day." I don't know if that was a nation-wide, regional or local educational strategy thing. But I remember it well. I also remember my old man's witty lampoon of that policy: "You would have to read the newspaper every day to be that stupid!" I really do have the very highest respect and admiration for great journalistic efforts, but, the longer I live, it seems the witty side of my old man's remark is increasingly outweighed by a kind of novel accuracy. (Only the people who know me best understand how difficult it was for me to write that last sentence!)

If you read the typical American newspaper this week, you got this kind of impression:

The State of Arkansas tried its best to lock away a cold-blooded, violent murderer and child molesting rapist by giving him a 100-year prison sentence. But Republican Mike Huckabee exercised his unilateral power as Governor and pardoned the man, launching him into the streets, where he promptly continued his previous campaign of rape and murder - just as any intelligent person would have guessed that he would have!

If you had time enough to cut through the poor reporting, you learned:

1. Arkansas did impose a 100+ year sentence, for crimes committed by a 16 year old.
2. Not included in the list of crimes: murder, rape.
3. A judge recommended clemency for the prisoner.
4. The original sentencing judge did not oppose the recommendation for clemency.
5. A parole board unanimously recommended clemency for the prisoner.
6. Huckabee acted upon recommendation, not unilaterally.
7. Huckabee pardoned no one.
8. Huckabee's commutation of sentence did not free anyone from prison.
9. Huckabee's commutation simply made the prisoner eligible for parole.
10. Huckabee's commutation came after the prisoner had served 11 years in prison
11. Parole was granted by a state board.
12. The state board's decision was supported by a judge.
13. Almost a decade after he was released by a parole board, the former prisoner shot and killed 4 policemen.

One would have to say there is a high price, indeed, for reading the newspapers!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

No Mercy for Dumb Washington Times Editorial !

The Washington Times contains the most peculiar editorial regarding Mike Huckabee's clemency decision making. Along the way, it reads:

The broader lesson here is that governors and presidents generally should leave clemency decisions for violent offenders to trained parole boards. Sure, there is good reason for giving chief clemency powers to chief executives ... But murderers and rapists are a different matter. A single executive, with hundreds of other responsibilities, is unlikely to be familiar enough with each case and each personality to determine if an individual convict is a threat to strike again. If a judge and jury, upon due consideration, imposed a certain sentence on a violent criminal and an expert parole board has not seen fit to reduce the sentence, a governor or president treads on thin ice in overruling them. It's an injustice that four officers of the peace had to die to teach Mr. Huckabee that lesson.
First, Mr. Clemmons was not a "murderer" or "rapist" when Gov. Huckabee commuted his sentence to make him eligible for parole. Second, Huckabee's commutation was in fact recommended to him by a unanimous vote of a parole board. Third, a parole board (not Huckabee) then granted parole, allowing directly for Clemmons' release.

In sum, the Washington Times is altogether clueless when it suggests Huckabee had anything at all to learn along the lines suggested in the editorial. Indeed, had he needed any such lesson, he would have simply PARDONED Clemmons on the spot and set him free. But he did not do that. He trusted the parole board to make the best decision - since it had more and better information - regarding parole for Mr. Clemmons.

And that is why we say this: No mercy for the blockhead who wrote this editorial.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Any Pardons for Humans?

Today's Washington Post features an editorial by Molly M. Gill, director of the commutations project for Families Against Mandatory Minimums. After noting an original finding of this blog -that only four other American presidents have waited longer than Barack Obama to use the pardon power- Gill suggests the clemency system is "broken down."

How so? Gill notes the Office of the Pardon Attorney is has a "small staff" that is "overburdened." As a result, "applicants report filing their clemency petitions and never receiving a reply" and applications "often sit in the pardon attorney's office for years before they are, inevitably, denied." But, more importantly, she notes:
Obama may have the power to grant clemency, but he can't use that power effectively unless the Office of the Pardon Attorney gives applicants a meaningful review and recommends worthy cases to the White House.
Indeed. PardonPower agrees with Gill. Obama should take "a hard look at the pardon system" and "fix" it. See entire editorial here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Justice: Perk, or Equal Right?

In this San Francisco Chronicle editorial, Deborah J. Saunders shares her impressions of President Obama's non-use of the pardon power. President Obama has not granted a single pardon or commutation of sentence and, as a result, is among history's slowest presidents. In an important passage, Saunders writes:
This is where a number of readers no doubt are talking back to the paper and saying that it's just fine with them if Obama keeps career criminals behind bars, thank you very much.

Of course, the pardon doesn't free anyone. It is a reward for reformed offenders who, after serving their sentences, have led exemplary lives and want a clean criminal slate so that they can vote or look for a job without revealing their past.
What might explain the gap between Obama's campaign rhetoric of "hope and change" and his mirror imaging of the Clinton/Bush administrations' routine of neglect?
Look at Obama's choice for attorney general, Eric Holder. When Holder worked for the Clinton administration, Ruckman noted, "he wouldn't take the time, energy or effort to make it a regular feature of government."

"But he would, if you will, make an effort in wildly controversial situations." Such as Holder's "neutral leaning positive" recommendation for the pardon sought by fugitive gazillionaire Marc Rich and his role in the 1999 Clinton pardons of 16 Puerto Rico independence terrorists.

See full editorialhere.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Jack Johnson Pardon: Reporting? or Mere Advertising?

PardonPower has submitted an editorial to the Washington Post re the potential posthumous pardon of boxing legend Jack Johnson. In our view, the need for the editorial could not be over estimated. For two weeks now, the Nation's newspapers have been flooded with articles on the topic, articles which, due to a lack of research or anything like an ounce of investigative reporting, amount to little more than PR (if not outright advocacy) for the pardon.

Readers can see still yet another such article in today's Los Angeles Times (full text here). The piece reads like three dozen others you can find elsewhere ... "Johnson was black. He dated white women and was charged by an all-white jury for violating the Mann Act. He was a rebel and white people hated him for it. Now, we are past all of that and celebrities and politicians of all colors and parties want him pardoned." Occaisionally, a writer will cast doubt on John McCain's support of the pardon.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lardner Scores FOIA Victory

In April of 2008, George Lardner - an associate at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress and a former Washington Post reporter - submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) in the Department of Justice (DOJ), Lardner requested the identities of all individuals whose requests for pardons and commutations of sentence were denied by George W. Bush. The OPA declined to deliver any such list (although it maintained one) citing FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C) as the basis for withholding the information. Lardner appealed the denial, waited a while and then filed suit.

Exemption 6 permits an agency to withhold information contained within "personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Interpreting the phrase "similar files" in a very liberal fashion, the OPA argued disclosure of the names of unsuccessful applicant would create a "double stigma" because it would publicly reveal "the fact of an individual's federal criminal conviction" and the fact that he/she "was deemed unworthy of clemency."

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