Showing posts with label Iowa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Iowa. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Iowa: Branstad Asleep at the Wheel

Erin Murphy of the Sioux City Journal has written a great piece on Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who has, on average, granted "fewer pardons than any Iowa governor dating to the late-1940s." Murphy notes the governor has received nearly 400 requests for pardons since 2011, but approved only 26:
Branstad is closer to the middle of that pack for granting commutations, or reduced sentences, since 2011. However, remove the roughly three dozen commutations that were the direct result of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that negated lifetime sentences for juveniles, and Branstad once again drops to the fewest granted since 1949. 
Branstad says that he has always "tried to be very thoughtful and very judicious in making these decisions" - as if anyone, anywhere is asking him to be otherwise. More notably, he believes the power to pardon should be used sparingly because it is "an extraordinary power" (language found nowhere in the Iowa State Constitution).
Party Comm Pardons Total Months
Terry Branstad (2011-2017) R 39 26 65 75
Chet Culver (2007-2011) D 0 95 95 48
Tom Vilsack (1999-2007) D 7 97 104 96
Terry Branstad (1983-1999) R 2 112 114 192
Robert Ray (1969-1983) R 27 163 190 168
Harold Hughes (1963-1969) D 39 44 83 72
Norman A. Erbe (1961-1963) R 11 11 22 24
Herschel C. Loveless (1957-1961) D 46 19 65 48
Leo Hoegh (1955-1957) R 30 12 42 24
Leo Elthon (1954-1955) R 17 1 18 2
William S. Beardsley (1949-1954) R 26 26 52 70

More to the point, Robert Rigg, a Drake University law school professor, says,“Most governors keep in mind they’re running for re-election almost always" and the worst thing they can do is be "called soft on crime.” So, more tellingly, Branstad says, "The good news is we’ve not had the tragedies that have occurred in some other states where governors haven’t been as careful or judicious and people that they pardoned have then committed other serious crimes.”

However, the Editor of this blog says:
“When I see a pardon number that low, I just don’t get why that is not in the hundreds. Because, again, the political risks there are just about zero ...If you look into those high-profile things, they’re almost always about commutations (not pardons). The idea that there is some risk to restoring rights is just lunacy.” 
See full story here.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Indiana: Corny, Outdated Rhetoric Over Mercy

Niki Kelly of the Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne) has written a pithy piece on the Governor, whom she notes, is a man who "said he wants Indiana to be the best place for criminals to get a second chance." Kelly, however, has the nerve to observe that Mike Pense took office in January of 2013, has received 34 recommendations from the Indiana Parole Board regarding pardon petitions and "he hasn’t granted one."

Failing to understand the nature and purpose of the pardon power, Pence, evidently, rationalizes his inexcusable neglect by saying that he has "a heavy bias for respect for due process of law.” How he does not understand that the pardon power is part and parcel of "due process" is a complete mystery. Maybe history majors at Hanover college don't learn about separation of powers and checks and balances in federal republics.

Perhaps more revealingly, Pence says clemency requests represent a "high hurdle" for him. Which is to say, his view of the matter varies considerably with Founding Father Alexander Hamilton who, in the Federalist papers (previously read by History majors nation-wide), recommended that there be "easy access" to mercy because criminal codes have an almost natural tendency toward cruelty, and insensitivity to due process.

Pence has offered that he will “prayerfully consider recommendations through the prism of what justice demands”- a promise which does seem a little more encouraging in contrast to mindlessly posing as a get-tough-on-crime law-and-order drone. Consider, for example, Pense's revelation that, in his mind, "offenses for violent crimes" involve "a much higher threshold,” Wow. The man is deep, cutting edge!

Kelly also notes former Gov. Mitch Daniels granted 62 across almost all of the eight years he was in office. But even that was "far fewer than recommended by the board." See the entire, very well written piece here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Iowa: Restoration of Voting Rights

The Associated Press reports Gov. Terry Branstad has "restored voting rights to more convicted felons in 2013 than in the prior two years combined." That amounts to 21 in 2013, 17 in 2012 and 2 in 2011. Consequently, his restorations actually represent "a tiny fraction of the thousands of former offenders" who  cannot vote because of a "policy change" he ordered in 2011.

It is reported that Branstad can also be credited for making the application process "easier" in in response to "criticism from voting rights groups." More specifically, he "removed requirements that applicants submit a credit history check and that all court-ordered restitution be paid to victims in full before they apply."

Iowa is now one of only five states that requires the governor to restore the voting rights of convicted felons. Applicants must:
... answer 29 questions, including one requiring them to provide the details of their sentence and others requiring them to provide the current addresses of the judge, prosecutor and defense lawyer involved. They must submit documentation showing they have either paid their restitution and court costs or are working in good faith to do so. And they must undergo a criminal background check through the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. The governor's office decides on applications within six months, granting them as long as the criteria are met. 
See story here.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Iowa: Conditional Commutation of Sentence

The DesMoines Register reports Governor Branstad has conditionally commuted the life sentence of 67-year old Rasberry Williams, who shot and killed another man almost four decades ago. Williams, who turned himself in after the shooting, has long maintained that the killing was done in self-defense. The commutation does not release Williams from prison, however. It merely makes him eligible for parole. Prison official say Williams' record "has been extraordinary" and that he has "had a positive impact on the lives of both inmates and Department of Corrections’ staff,”

The Iowa Board of Parole recommended Williams for commutation, but now must decide whether or not to actually release him. Branstad suggested several conditions for releasing Williams, including that he not use drugs or alcohol or gamble and that he not have contact with the Givhan family.

It is also reported that "the state’s three most recent governors have granted commutations to inmates sentenced to death or life behind bars fewer than a dozen times in the past 30 years" although the population of inmates serving life in Iowa prisons without parole "has risen dramatically — from 162 inmates in 1983 to more than 600 today."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Iowa: "No" x 10

KCRG Channel 9 reports Terry Branstad "has denied commutations for 10 inmates serving life sentences for murder, kidnapping and robbery."  Meanwhile, Branstad "is still considering commuting the life prison term of 66 year old Rasberry Williams. The State's Board of Parole has recommended commutation for Williams and "prison officials have called him a model inmate who has prevented two inmate attacks on correctional officers." The average age of those denied commutations is 55 years. See story here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Iowa: Record of Recent Governors

Data Gathered by The Gazette
The Gazette reports "Iowa inmates serving life prison terms during the last 30 years are more than ten times less likely to see their sentences commuted than in the previous 38 years." More specifically:
From 1945 to 1983, Iowa governors commuted the sentences of an average 5.5 inmates a year, according to data provided by the Iowa Department of Corrections. Since 1983, lifers have seen only .4 commutations a year - or an average of one commutation every two to three years. 
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, has commuted the life prison terms of 2 inmates in 18 years in office. Former Gov. Chet Culver (D) also commuted 2 life sentences in 4 years. Former Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) "commuted an average of one life sentence a year for his eight years in office." According to the Gazette:
Before this era, Iowa governors - Republicans and Democrats - were much more generous with commutations. Gov. Herschel C. Loveless, who served from 1957 to 1961, commuted the life prison terms of 46 inmates. But Gov. Leo Elthon holds the record - at least since 1945 — for commuting the most sentences in the shortest amount of time. He commuted the terms of 17 lifers from November 1954 to January 1955. 
See full story here.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Iowa: Commutation Recommendation

In 1974, 28-year old Rasberry Williams turned himself in after shooting and killing another man. Williams said it was done in self-defense, but a jury didn't buy it. Now, almost four decades later, the Iowa Board of Parole has unanimously recommended that Govenor Branstad commute Williams' sentence. He is now 66 years old and, by all accounts, has been a model prisoner. He even saved the lives prison guards who were taken hostage. Members of the victim's family also say they have forgiven him for the killing. The application is also supported by prison wardens, the prosecutor and sentencing judge. It reported that "during 18 years in office spread over three decades, Branstad has commuted the life terms of only two inmates, the last being in 1992." See full story here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Iowa: Denials

KCCI8, Des Moines reports Gov. Terry Branstad has "denied applications to commute the sentences of four Iowa inmates, rejecting requests to become eligible for parole." It is also reported that "three of the four are serving life in prison for first-degree murder." A news release from the governor's office gave no no reason for denying the requests. See story here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Iowa: A (Brief, Very Last-Minute) Time for Fairness

The Iowa Independent reports that the "final act" of Chet Culver was the announcement of two commutations of sentence for Sheila Mae Schertz and John H. Lowery. In each instance, the commutations make the inmates "eligible for parole." The Independent also reports that these were the "first sentences ever commuted by Culver," who complained about "disparities" in sentencing, in the first instance, and an over-harsh "mandatory sentence" in the second.

Culver said he was "passionate about ensuring that people who break the laws serve their time and that the public safety is protected.” But, he also added that there is "a time for fairness, and common sense about the use of taxpayer dollars on our corrections system."

Evidently, that time only exists in the last hours and minutes of one's term, when decision making is most likely to appear rushed and one's motives can be most easily questioned! See story here.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Iowa: Culver's Mercy

Gov. Chet Culver's one term as governor is coming to an end and the clemency applications are starting to come in. To date, he has granted 89 pardons (of 221 applicants), but has not approved of a single commutations of sentence. He has, however, restored the rights of 263 people (some whose applications were left on the desk by his predecessor) and approved of 92 applications for restoration of firearms rights (of 242 applications). Culver claims he is just "going through the same review process that all governors go through.” It appears that "process" keeps applicants waiting "about two years."

The Sioux City Journal reports two-term Democrat Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) commuted only 6 sentences from 1999 to 2007. Four-term Governor Terry Branstad (R) commuted only 2 from 1983 to 1999. Gov. Robert Ray (R) commuted 27 sentences from 1969 and 1983. See article here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Iowa: Call for Change in Clemency Process

The Iowa Board of Corrections has supported a resolution allowing prisoners sentenced to life in prison to apply for commutations after serving only five years. Currently, they must wait ten years. See story here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Iowa: Request

Janet Jackson told her former husband she was willing to reconcile arranged for a meeting. When he showed up, he was beaten with a metal pipe and his wallet was stolen, to convince the police that a random robbery had been committed. Jackson then had her accomplices beat her, so as to also appear as a victim of her former husband's assailants. Jackson was sentenced to life in prison. The two men she convinced to do the crime received a life sentence and 17-year sentence respectively. Jackson has also applied for clemency on several other occasions.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Iowa: Where Life Means Life!

The Des Moines Register reports Iowa's three most recent governors have commuted life sentences in only nine instances over the last 26 years. Meanwhile the population of those with life-sentences has risen dramatically, from 162 inmates in 1983 to 617 today (an increase of 281 percent). See story here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Iowa: Request

Tracey Dyess was 17 years old when she fought against abuse by her step-father by setting fire to her own home. The result of the fire, however, was the death of her 6-year-old brother and 13-year-old sister. Dyess is looking at a "tentative discharge date" of 2035. Gov. Chet Culver will now decide whether or not to commute the "mandatory" minimum sentence. See full story here.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Iowa: A Pardon Success Story

Tony Ley has a piece at the DesMoines Register about 52-year old Phillip Emmert whose 27-year no-parole prison sentence was commuted by George W. Bush two years ago. Ley notes Emmert spent 14 years in federal prison "for selling methamphetamine to support a drug habit."

But by all accounts, his life out of prison has been a success - getting a job, being promoted, caring for his wife, being active in his church, etc. Emmert also has opinions about the pardon power. Referring to President Bush, he said:
"If I were [the President], I'd call the pardon attorney and say, 'Give me a list. I know there's got to be deserving people out there. Give me a list, so I can help some people on my way out of here.' "
Emmert is now said to be optimistic in his hope that President Obama will consider easing the Nation's strict anti-drug laws, which have sent thousands of nonviolent offenders to prison for years or decades. But, according to Ley, Emmert believes the "first step" would be to create "a more open atmosphere at the Office of the Pardon Attorney," the Justice Department agency that screens requests for pardons and commutations. Says Emmert:

"There's got to be other people out there who deserve this," he said of his reprieve. "Their job should be to look for those people. It shouldn't be just to rubber-stamp every application, 'No.'"
We could not have said it any better. Great reporting Tony. Best of luck, Phillip. See story here.

* This story was visited by the Executive Office of the President of the United States on 12/8/2015 and 3/29/2016

Monday, November 10, 2008

Iowa: Pardoned Turkeys

The Chicago Tribune reports an Iowa couple will present a 45-pound turkey to be pardoned by President Bush in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday. It is also reported that the turkey is the sixth, since 1947, to come from Iowa. One wonders how Bush, who has meticulously neglected the use of the pardon power, goes through such exercises without some sort of emotional confusion. Wouldn't it be nice to see President-elect Obama end this senseless turkey-pardoning tradition and use the pardon power for more serious and urgent matters? See story here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Iowa: A Mayor Writes the Governor

The Chicago Tribune reports Mayor Daley has written Iowa Chet Culver, requesting a pardon for a Chicago Police Officer serving a five-year prison sentence for assault. Daley says Michael Mette "did little or nothing to provoke" the fight that landed him where he is today and "the physical assault that he experienced was not pre-meditated, but merely a matter of self-defense." Daley also complains that Mette was "denied a chance for a parole hearing or even the opportunity to serve time on work release" and that this treatment is "harsh." See story here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Iowa: Pardon for Face-Punching Cop?

WBBM 780 reports that police and prosecutors in the State of Illinois are asking Iowa Governor Chet Culver to pardon Michael Mette, a Chicago police officer who was sentenced to five years in prison after he hit an under aged drunken college student in the face. Supporters of the 31-year old Mette say the blow landed only after he had been pushed three times by the student whose BAC was three times the legal limit. A Cook County State's Attorney and Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis are among those seeking the pardon. See story here and here.

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