Showing posts with label New York. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Zeidman on Clemency

At the New York Daily News, (story here) Steve Zeidman says that is it "high time to think about the thousands of people behind bars who truly merit" clemency.
... if we want truly to confront the problem of overincarceration, governors need to use their power much more broadly. And not just to free drug offenders, but to release people incarcerated for violent crimes as well. 
Zeidman says "the compelling need for clemency today" is the "direct result of the Draconian sentences routinely meted out in courtrooms across the country over the past several decades."
In New York, rather than a 20-year maximum, there are almost 9,000 people serving sentences with a 20-year minimum, and almost 10,000 people serving sentences with a maximum of life. Nearly 3,000 people have already been locked up for at least 20 years, and more than 2,000 behind bars are older than 60. Contrary to prevailing rhetoric that links mass incarceration to the war on drugs, the fact is the majority of people serving these long sentences are not in prison for drug offenses. Only about 5% of the 52,000 people in New York’s labyrinth of 54 state prisons are there for drug possession, and merely an additional 6% were convicted of selling drugs. 
Zeidman also suggests that "focusing on so-called low-level, nonviolent drug offenders will barely make a dent in the prison population." Gov. Cuomo took what he called “a critical step toward a more just, more fair and more compassionate New York” by creating the first pro bono program for people seeking clemency. He emphasized that his goal was to make clemency “a more accessible and tangible reality.” Zeidman says, "That objective has yet to be realized. Only a small handful of people have received clemency."

In a speech at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said:
“The pardon process, of late, seems to have been drained of its moral force. A people confident in its laws and institutions should not be ashamed of mercy. . . . I hope more lawyers involved in the pardon process will say to chief executives, ‘Mr. President,’ or ‘Your Excellency, the Governor, this young man has not served his full sentence, but he has served long enough. Give him what only you can give him. Give him another chance. Give him a priceless gift. Give him liberty.’ ”

Saturday, May 27, 2017

New York: O'Hara Turns the Tables

The New York Law Journal reports that Brooklyn attorney John O'Hara:
... the first person charged with illegal voting since 1873, when Susan B. Anthony cast a vote before women were legally allowed to do so, has over the past several years been reinstated to the bar and had his name cleared. Now O'Hara is setting his sights on a new challenge: He wants to lead a slate of insurgent candidates to run this year in the Democratic primary for open seats on the bench in Brooklyn Civil Court. 
O'Hara, who says he can "bring a perspective to the bench that no one else brings,” quips, “Better to be a judge than be judged."

Readers of the blog are aware that O'Hara was indicted on the illegal voting charge in 1996, but reinstated to the bar in 2009. His conviction was then thrown out. See previous posts here.

O'Hara will file papers to become a candidate and needs at least 4,000 valid signatures on a petition. See story here.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New York: 101 Conditional Pardons, 5 Pardons, 7 Commutations

The New York Daily News reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo "wound down the year" on Friday by:
... commuting the jail sentences of seven felons, including the getaway driver in an infamous armored car robbery that left two cops and a security guard dead. Cuomo also pardoned five others and granted conditional pardons to 101 additional offenders who were convicted of non-violent crimes as minors and have maintained clean records for at least 10 years. 
The conditional pardons will be erased if recipients are convicted of another crime. With respect to the commutations:
Among the most notable of those granted clemency Friday was 67-year-old Judith Clark, who was among a group of radicals [that] staged a daring, daylight robbery of a Brinks armored car at the Nanuet Mall in Rockland County in October of 1981. A Brinks security guard was killed at the mall and two Nyack police officers were shot after the group was cornered by cops at a nearby Thruway exit. “If anyone is worthy of mercy, we believe Judy Clark is,” her attorney Steven Zeidman told the Daily News. "She is aware that this news will be painful and difficult to those who lost loved ones in the Brinks robbery,” Zeidman said. “The question becomes how much punishment is enough.” Clark [would] not have been eligible for parole until she was 106. Cuomo’s order allows her to immediately seek a hearing before the Parole Board.
Law enforcement officials vehemently opposed efforts to grant Clark clemency and promise to "press the Parole Board to keep Clark in jail." The Cuomo administration notes she:
... has, among other things, earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from Mercy College, taught pre-natal parenting courses, founded an HIV/AIDS education program, and trained service dogs in the Puppies Behind Bars program. 
See story here.

Friday, February 12, 2016

New York Clemency: Planning to Plan

CUNY School of Law Professor Steven Zeidman praises Governor Andrew Cuomo for a "most laudable agenda item" for 2016, namely, to "further New York's status as a national leader in criminal justice and re-entry reforms."

Zeidman also praises Cuomo for "recently" adding "a clemency initiative" to mix, something he says is "long overdue." Zeidman believes a "vigorous clemency program" would be the "right thing to do" but, from 2011-2014, Cuomo has been asleep at the wheel. "Not a single person had his or her sentence reduced in New York State." Zeidman says clemency:
... is one direct and relatively swift way to address the national blight of mass incarceration. It is cost effective—most people seeking clemency have already served long sentences and are becoming geriatric prisoners with all the attendant costs. Further, given their age, those granted clemency present virtually no threat to public safety as studies consistently reveal an inverse relationship between age and crime. Those most likely to be granted clemency have aged out of criminal behavior. 
Zeidman also wonders, "how long should someone serve even for a violent crime?" The sentences given out in American courts are "dramatically longer than those imposed by any other civilized democracy." In New York, there are "almost 9,000 people serving sentences with a 20-year minimum" and "almost 10,000 people are serving sentences with a maximum of life." And it costs taxpayers "on average $60,000 annually" to house them.

So, Zeidman concludes, "One likely place to begin would be with the eldest and longest-serving men and women in New York's prisons." See full editorial here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

New York: 5 Yrs Later, Cuomo Moves to Invite to Consider ...

It kinda looks like big news from one of the Nation's most merciless governors. The New York Times' headline reads:
Cuomo Moves to Pardon Former Youthful Offenders
But, wait a minute ... "moves to pardon?" What does that mean? Cuomo is the Governor of New York. If he wants to, he can simply pardon people, not "move to pardon them." He can just do it.

Further, we read, "thousands" of people "were convicted of nonviolent crimes as teenagers but have since led law-abiding lives." - Knew that.

In addition, their convictions create "stubborn barriers to employment, housing and other services."-Knew that.

Pardons, on the other hand, would "provide second chances to generations of once-youthful offenders who had long since abandoned their criminal lives but continue to be dogged by their criminal pasts" - Is there someone on this planet who is not aware of all of this? Save Cuomo?

Friday, December 18, 2015

National Journal on Clemency in the States

The National Journal is featuring a piece on clemency in the states and the case of one Lydia Garcia Ortiz in particular. Garcia was charged for "lead­ing a ring that traf­ficked an es­tim­ated $5 mil­lion of co­caine from New York City to Rochester." At the time, New York's Rock­e­feller drug laws "im­posed severe sen­tences for non­vi­ol­ent drug crimes." A judge offered a three year sentence for her testimony or a prediction of twenty five years if she insisted on a trial. So, Garcia fled, and remained a fugitive for 14 years, until 2003, when she was 58 years old. Garcia stepped out of prison in October of 2015, her sentence commuted by Governor Cuomo.

Re clemency in the states, the piece observes:
... In re­cent dec­ades, an era where politi­cians don’t want to be seen as soft on crime, the clem­ency power has be­come polit­ic­ally dan­ger­ous, ex­plained P.S. Ruck­man, Jr., polit­ic­al-sci­ence pro­fess­or at North­ern Illinois Uni­versity and au­thor of the Par­don Power Blog.
The most ex­treme ‘no clem­ency’ state is Wis­con­sin, where Walk­er has made it a policy to not grant any. “There are oth­er gov­ernors who may have the same at­ti­tude, but they don’t an­nounce it. They just don’t par­don people, or they par­don very rarely,” Ruck­man said. But he said there is no state where the gov­ernor is known for “hand­ing clem­en­cies out like candy.”
Though it hasn’t made sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­ence in the num­bers yet, Ruck­man thinks that there is a shift in na­tion­al at­ti­tudes to­wards clem­en­cies. In New York, the fact that a gubernat­ori­al hope­ful, Zephyr Teachout, stood for clem­ency re­form, he says, is telling. New Jer­sey Gov­ernor, Chris Christie, who is seek­ing the Re­pub­lic­an Party nom­in­a­tion for pres­id­ent, re­cently pardoned a man for a drug re­lated of­fense, say­ing, “This is no gift from me. This is something John’s earned.” 
Ruck­man’s home state of Illinois, has seen a bit of change in par­don­ing cul­ture over the past few gubernat­ori­al terms. Fol­low­ing the now-in­car­cer­ated former gov­ernor Rod Blago­jevich, who gran­ted zero clem­en­cies dur­ing his term, Pat Quinn, a Demo­crat, gran­ted 1,752 re­quests and denied 3,014—a rate of grants re­por­ted to be among the highest for any gov­ernor at that time. The cur­rent gov­ernor, Bruce Rau­ner, a Re­pub­lic­an, has taken steps to main­tain a healthy clem­ency sys­tem. Rau­ner re­views ap­plic­a­tions on a reg­u­lar cycle. Since tak­ing of­fice last Janu­ary, he has gran­ted 21 clem­en­cies, in four batches.
... A healthy clem­ency sys­tem, Ruck­man said, is one that re­views ap­plic­a­tions in a sys­tem­at­ic fash­ion on a reg­u­lar basis. He points to Arkan­sas as a good ex­ample of a state where par­dons are giv­en at a healthy rate. “In Arkan­sas, the gov­ernors reg­u­larly par­don—not hun­dreds of thou­sands, but two here five here, ten there, that type of thing,” he said.

See full article here.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

New York: O'Hara Turns the Tables

John O'Hara
The Times reports John Kennedy O’Hara has
... filed a motion in the Brooklyn courts saying that his conviction should be vacated on the grounds of selective prosecution. The motion is jammed with facts collected by Mr. Rudin during the years he helped a man named Jabbar Collins overturn a wrongful conviction for murder and then sue the city, which settled with him for $10 million in August. Along the way, Mr. Rudin was able to question many senior executives in Mr. Hynes’s office, and uncovered a great deal of casualness about where they actually lived, as opposed to where they claimed to live. Also, he found out that some of the prosecutors let other people sign personal and professional papers for them. And a voter registration card appeared to show that Mr. Hynes himself was, for a time, enrolled using the address of a municipal office building, which hardly qualifies as a residence.
Click here to view the motion in its entirety. This move comes after years of waiting for something along the lines of executive clemency, which occurs with much greater infrequency than lightening in the State of New York. See our previous posts here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

New York: Cuomo, Failing the Basics

Zephyr Teachout, who is facing Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primaries says it best:
"Andrew Cuomo does not grant clemency ... I think he has granted three clemencies total in the last four years. Extraordinary. There are more than three people in New York prisons deserving a clemency ... Refusing to grant clemency is a failure of one of the most basic jobs of being governor."
According to the National Catholic Reporter, Teachout believes "there's often a disproportionate response to small crimes, which leads to needless arrests."  In her view, "No one should casually sentence someone to five years in jail" and every politician "should go and spend time and visit prisons and jails" because they should know something about the kind of power they are exercising.

All to which we say, Bravo! See story here.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New York: First Signs of Imperfection Prompt Pardons

For three years, the legislative branch and the courts (including judges, prosecutors and juries) of the entire State of New York have been absolutely flawless - without error. No one anywhere was wrongfully convicted or over-charged. All relevant evidence was fairly considered in every case and every single sentence perfectly matched the severity of the offenses committed.

In addition, not a single person in the State could be found who could fairly be said to be deserving of anything like pardon, mercy, clemency from the Governor.

That is, until today.

For the first time during his three year reign, Gov. Andrew Cuomo cast doubt upon the State's spotless record of godlike perfection and unleashed a relentless hurricane of clemency upon the citizenry. The brute force of his decision making appeared in the form of three (3) pardons.

Cuomo's defense of his decision making was turbulent, fiery, bound to give rise to a swell of controversy from the protectors of "law and order" mania.

More specifically, he argued the records of the three individuals made "a compelling case for justice being best served through clemency.” Why? First, said Cuomo, they had "paid their debt to society long ago.: Second, they have "been prevented from having the same legal rights as others because of their past crimes." Third, each has shown themselves to be "law-abiding citizens who have contributed to society, given back to their communities and are deserving of a second chance.”

Will judges and juries and the State's elected officials recover from this executive smear? Doesn't Cuomo know that if you can't do the crime you shouldn't do the crime? Doesn't he know there are more important things to do than to coddle criminals?

See full story (minus biting sarcasm) here.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

New York: Charles Hynes, aka "Toast"

The Brooklyn Paper has a wonderful piece of reporting on one Charles Hynes:
... whose 24-year run as a Machiavellian crime-slashing prosecutor came to a screeching halt on Tuesday, when a relatively unknown legal eagle knocked him out. 
The Paper notes Hynes "shot to national stardom at the height of the city’s racial tensions in 1987" after investigating an "infamous fatal beating." He then secured three more murder convictions, "criminalized domestic abuse" and "created the state’s first family justice center."

But, the Paper notes Hynes "wasn’t above exacting vengeance on his political adversaries":
Attorney John O’Hara had been a thorn in the side of Hynes for years in the 1990s, backing candidates against the DA and campaigning against the Democratic Party’s chosen few. So, when he voted in a neighboring election district, Hynes prosecuted him — and won the first case of voter fraud in New York City since Susan B. Anthony in 1873. 
See our coverage of O'Hara's case here. When a civil rights attorney ran against him, Hynes subpoenaed those who signed the petition to get her on the ballot and indicted her on felony charges - although no conviction followed. Hynes had another challenger "declared mentally incompetent."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Business Litigator's Seminar in Ignorance

The New York Times recently featured a Letter to the Editor by one Alan E. Sash of New York, also identified as a "business litigation attorney." Mr. Sash expresses his disagreement with the Times' suggestion that President Obama has been "timid" in his use of the pardon power. Writes Mr. Sash:
The pardon power should be used with caution and on a limited basis as a safety valve for true miscarriages of justice. It should not be used by a president to usurp the determination of a judge and jury that saw all of the evidence in the case, heard the testimony of the witnesses and observed the impact on the victims. There is no doubt that the power to pardon or commute a sentence is an important tool in our system of government, but it is a tool that should be used sparingly. If prison sentences are unjust or fines excessive, the more appropriate remedy is to change the law or to give judges more discretion in establishing the punishment for the offense. The answer is not broadening the use of the pardon power. 
The world of ignorance encompassed in these words could fill the pages of a medium-sized doctoral dissertation. Hopefully, Mr. Sash is more well informed with respect to matters related to "business litigation."

First, the notion that the pardon power should only be used "as a safety valve for true miscarriages of justice" is both dramatic and romantic, but completely without legal or historical basis. No Founding Father ever took this view. It is not expressed in the text of the Constitution, or any Supreme Court opinion interpreting the Constitution. For this, we can all get on our knees and thank God Almighty. Alexander Hamilton (a better brand of lawyer), in the Federalist papers, for example, argued the pardon power should be easily accessible (yes, you read that right, easily, not sparse), because, generally, criminal codes have a natural tendency toward progressive severity. Anyone seriously disagree with that? Hamilton also noted that pardons are significant political tools (for quelling rebellions, for example). Yes, there is a whole universe of possibility completely invisible to Mr. Sash.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

New York: Spitzer the Merciless, Asks Forgiveness

A favorite reader of this blog notes that, during his 13-month tenure as Governor of the State of New York, Eliot Spitzer granted a total of 1 ... yes, one ... a single pardon.

Now, Spitzer is attempting to climb back in the political arena and says: “I’m hopeful there will be forgiveness, I am asking for it.”

Insert your own punch line here:

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Mafia, the Murder Stable and Presidential Mercy

Author Virgil W. Peterson notes that, in the early 1900’s, Ignatio Lupo (a.k.a. Ignazio Saietta, a.k.a. “Lupo the Wolf”) was “the most important leader in the Sicilian-Italian underworld.” Lupo came to the United States in 1899, at the tender age of twenty-two. He had fled from Sicily after committing a murder and settled in East Harlem.

Author Carl Sifakis observes young Lupo gained an “awesome reputation” over the next few years as “the most desperate and blood thirsty criminals in the history of American crime.” Indeed, it became “common” for Italians to cross themselves at the mere mention of his name of the “most proficient and deadliest” racketeer in New York. Conventional wisdom was that Lupo was also behind countless episodes of torture in a building in Italian Harlem affectionately known as the “Murder Stable.” In 1901, a New York police detective who was assisting the Secret Service in an investigation of plots to kill President McKinley raided the structure at 323 East 107th Street. The property, owned by Lupo, was searched and diggings uncovered the remains of at least sixty murder victims.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

New York: Calling Gov. Cuomo!

At the Journal News (new York), Suzanne Kessler, Virginia Casper and Michelle Fine have written an editorial calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo not to neglect a topic which "impacts, and is impacted by, almost every topic he did discuss" - incarcerations. The authors note that the Governor could "make a difference" by:
bringing common sense to bear on the problem of women and men serving long sentences — people who could be returned to their communities to be positive role models for young people in their communities and help solve the very problems he has identified.  Human beings make mistakes, but so does the criminal justice system. In particular, some prisoners languish in prison decades after it makes sense to keep them there. This is one reason that governors in many states, including New York, have the absolute power to grant clemency. 
As such, Cuomo should circumstanced when "rehabilitation has been accomplished, remorse expressed, and justice served."  Instead, he has "hit a new low, granting not a single clemency in the two years since taking office."

The piece also cites Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, who has decried the "paltry use" of the pardon power. Says Judge Jacobs:
“What a shame that it should lie neglected, or be put to trivial uses, when it is the easiest way to improve law and justice decisively and at one stroke.” 
The authors argue that a politician "with Gov. Cuomo’s political credibility and capital" should "demonstrate the strength of his leadership," and be able to "see beyond imagined risks." See story here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Johnson v. O. Henry: One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Harry Reid, John McCain, William "Mo" Cowan and Rep. Peter King are back at it again. Today, they have called on the President to pardon the late boxing champion Jack Johnson.

Reid argues Johnson was a "legendary competitor who defined an era of American boxing and raised the bar for all American athletics." McCain says the pardon would be a way of "celebrating [Johnson's] legacy of athletic greatness and historical significance.” Cowan says Johnson was "one of the great African-American athletes." King says Johnson was a "trailblazer and a legend."

But, more than all that, the members of Congress argue Johnson was "unjustly tarnished by a racially-motivated criminal conviction" and a posthumous pardon would be a "small, meaningful step toward acknowledging his mistreatment before the law." In addition to being the victim of "racial persecution," Jackson was convicted via "unjust laws."

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Quote of the Day: T. Roosevelt on O. Henry

"All the reforms that I have attempted in behalf of the working girls of New York were suggested by the writings of O. Henry." Theodore Roosevelt

Friday, January 25, 2013

New York: Cuomo's Pardon Fail

A the New York Times, Jim Dwyer has written a piece on the pitiful clemency record of Andrew Cuomo. Dwyer reports that there are 55,000 people in the State's prison system, and tens of thousands of others who have criminal records.

But, over two years and a month, the Governor has granted a grand total of 0 pardons and 0 commutations of sentence. Earlier, a spokesman promised Cuomo would use the pardon power "practically and methodically to help ensure everyone is treated fairly under the law.” Writes Dwyer:
So the quality of mercy is not strained under Mr. Cuomo. It hasn’t even broken a sweat. 
On the other hand, the Governor, in a recent radio interview said he had "considered using it in a number of cases.” On top of that, he added that he "wouldn't rule it out, by any stretch of the imagination." So, there you go. If that is not being practical and methodical, what is?

A former chair of the State's Parole Board agrees that there are “cases that deserve serious consideration." But, he adds, "I don’t see it happening because of political risk.” Political risk? Political risk with restoring the rights of persons who committed minor crimes years ago and have integrated back into society as law abiding members? Risk? NONSENSE. See full article here.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

O'Hara on Voting, Crime

PardonPower recommends a very fine editorial by John O'Hara, entitled "Voting is a Right, Not a Crime." It appears at We have discussed Mr. O'Hara's case several times before. As he describes it:
In 1996, I was picked out of 1 million voters and indicted on felony charges that could have landed me in prison for 28 years. I didn't vote twice in the same day, nor did I vote from a sham address. I voted from a place that was not my "principal and permanent" residence. It was the first time anyone had been prosecuted on a voting residency issue, and the first time a person in Brooklyn was tried three times. The saga endured for years. I managed to avoid going to prison, but I was disbarred from the practice of law, confined by probation, fined $20,000 and ordered to perform 1,500 hours of community service. 
O'Hara notes that, since 2010, "30 states have passed what are benignly referred to as 'Voter ID' laws" but, until 2006, "no state required a person to produce ID to vote." He also notes that "almost all of the states that enacted these laws are controlled by Republicans" and courts "have called these laws into question recognizing that they are designed to prevent the elderly, poor and people of color from voting."

Says O' Hara: 
The days of state troopers using attack dogs on voters are over. They were too confrontational, too messy and, in the end, they backfired. The smoother way is the Republican way — make laws that allow the politically appointed registrars to purge the list of "undesirables." This isn't George Wallace's Alabama. It's worse, and it reflects a sign of the times. 
America has "5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of its prison population" but "voting should not be a crime. Read the complete, very informative editorial here. Sign the online petition for O'Hara's pardon here

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

OPA Says 'No Way' to O.Henry Pardon

The Office of the Pardon Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, has declined to consider an application for the posthumous pardon of William Sydney Porter (aka O. Henry) sponsored by the Editor of this blog and Scott Henson (Editor of the Grits for Breakfast blog). The application was sent to the Office via overnight mail on September 11 and the response was dated September 20 (after only seven working days).

While we are not particularly surprised at this response / outcome, we certainly did not expect it to emerge quite so swiftly. To the Office's general credit, the letter did make an attempt to explain the logic behind the decision. Of course, we reject that logic as being largely unsound, but appreciate the effort at transparency nonetheless.

Sign the online petition for the President to pardon O. Henry here.

Much, much, more on this story to follow ...

Update: Big shout out to whoever posted this to their Facebook account and brought over so many viewers and "likes." Really appreciate it, who ever you are :-)

Gov. T. Roosevelt: By the Numbers

Theodore Roosevelt granted 94 acts of clemency as Governor of New York (January 1, 1899 to December 31, 1900). 51 were granted in 1899 and 43 were granted in 1900. The classifications of these acts is as follows:

69 commutations of sentence
21 pardons
 3 respites
 2 conditional commutations of sentence

The offense addressed in these acts ranged from being a being a tramp, stealing a bicycle and maiming to grand larceny and murder. On average, clemency was granted 4 years after sentencing (the average sentence being 6.3 years in length.

The Annual Statement of the Governor provides no less than 287 separate, distinct explanations for these 94 acts. A few are peculiar (death of a father, ill brother, rescued a prison officer from attack, saved a child in a fire, etc.), but almost all of them fit comfortably in a categorization scheme of 33 dimensions.

The most common justifications referenced the recommendations of prosecuting attorneys (44) and judges (40). In 32 instances, Roosevelt considered the offense minor / technical or judged the recipient less culpable. In 28 instances, Roosevelt noted the recipient had served a considerable portion of his/her sentence, or had served enough time given the nature of the offense.

While these explanations would be generally expected, the several which follow in order say much more about Roosevelt himself and the circumstances of the times. A good reputation before the offense was cited in 19 instances. Roosevelt complained about the excessive nature of sentences in 15 instances. He worried about the possible innocence in 14 others.

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