Showing posts with label Texas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Texas. Show all posts

Friday, May 18, 2012

MSNBC: Eat the Turkey. Pardon O. Henry!

MSNBC reports Scott Henson, "a former investigative journalist and blogger on the criminal justice system" has launched a petition drive Thursday, with the aim of "delivering 10,000 signatures to President Barack Obama by Sept. 11, O. Henry’s birthday." Says Henson:
"This petition aims both to honor and exonerate a great American writer and to call attention to a withering and atrophied clemency process, one which no longer functions as robustly either as justice demands or America's constitutional framers intended" 
O. Henry, whose real name is William S. Porter, was convicted embezzling from an Austin bank, but historians say the conviction was questionable. Porter made things worse, however, by becoming a fugitive from justice. He turned himself in, eventually, when he heard that his wife was ill. There followed a five-year prison sentence.  Upon release, Porter moved to New York where he wrote, but "died of alcoholism at the age of 47, nearly penniless." The article notes:
The most prestigious award for American short stories is the PEN/O. Henry. There are museums that celebrate his legacy — and towns, schools and other buildings named after him, including the University of Texas-owned building that housed the court where Porter was convicted. This year, the 150th birthday of O. Henry’s birth, the U.S. Postal Service is rolling out a postage stamp featuring O. Henry’s face. When President Obama pardoned the Thanksgiving turkey in 2011, who did he quote? O. Henry. 
Henson says O. Henry's case "is an excellent opportunity for a presidential pardon, an executive power held by governors and U.S. presidents that is exercised far less than it was half a century ago." An O. Henry pardon might signal that President Obama understands (and values) "the true purpose of executive clemency powers in the justice system — not just as a symbol but also a remedy for both actual innocence and unfortunate guilt,' (referring to an expression from the Federalist Papers) one that provides a healing salve even for century-old wounds," says a letter accompanying the petition to Obama."

Obama has so far been among the stingiest American presidents in exercising the powers of clemency, but Henson says that this is merely "the continuation of a trend among modern presidents."  See story here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Texas: Perry Can Pardon Smart

The following may be found at Grits for Breakfast:
Grits predicted Gov. Perry would receive positive press from his parsimonious clemency record if the campaign played up the issue[and] could use Christmastime clemency to separate himself from the other presidential candidates ... By granting more-than-usual clemencies this December, Perry would likely generate good media with little near-term Wille-Horton-esque risk, while setting the story up inevitably as comparing Perry and Obama (since none of the other GOP candidates can grant pardons) and thereby making the governor appear more presidential.

I'm not confident Perry will do that, but if he doesn't he'll have missed an opportunity to separate, even elevate himself in a controlled, positive media moment from the other GOP contenders and the president ... it would be a wasted political opportunity if the governor didn't use the Christmas pardon ritual to his own public-relations benefit, especially now that the campaign can see how the issue plays in the national media.

Grits' prediction: Governor Perry issues 10 or more pardons between now and Christmas day, making the national news cycle for a day or two with mostly positive press. That said, if he really wants to use the issue to trump the president, Gov. Perry should issue at least 23 pardons, a number he surpassed in 2003 and 2005. That would also be one more than President Obama has given out since he took the reins of power three years ago: A sure-fire news hook.
See full, unedited post here.

Grits: O Henry's Bum Rap

Over Grits for Breakfast, a biography by C. Alphonso Smith is reviewed re the case of O Henry. Smith notes that the common view of the day was that O Henry was "a victim of circumstances," at least if they bothered to follow the trial closely. The bank involved as "wretchedly manage" and patrons frely went behind the counters, took money, and reported their behavior later. O Henry had complained to others that "it was impossible to make the books balance."  Grits also notes that an indictment charges O Henry with embezzlement, in Austin, on November 12, when it is well established that, by that point in time, O Henry had resigned from the bank and was living in Houston! Both the foreman of the grand jury and the foreman of the trial jury are reported to have regretted their votes to convict afterward. See more interesting takes on this fascinating case in the full post here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Grits: Eat the Turkey, Pardon O Henry!

Over at Grits for Breakfast, there is particular annoyance at the fact that "President Obama's speech writers had the gall (or perhaps the philistinism) to include a quote from O Henry in the President's remarks 'pardoning' a Thanksgiving turkey." Grits notes:
O Henry [always] claimed he was innocent, but when accused of embezzling $748 from the Austin bank he worked for, he fled to Honduras, returning to face federal charges in 1898 after his wife became terminally ill. In a practice that wouldn't be allowed in today's TDCJ, he "began writing stories to support his young daughter while he was in prison," moving to New York to continue his career after his release.
After noting Rick Perry's less than "great" record on pardons (Perry granted more pardons in 2003 alone than Obama has throughout his entire tenure), Grits suggests:
... IMO that'd be good campaign strategy for an incumbent governor looking to burnish his positive image in the holiday season, using the authority of his office to seize press attention for a news cycle or two and to elevate himself above his rivals. Why not issue a coupla dozen or so gubernatorial pardons as a news hook, then attack Obama for his Scrooge-like clemency practices and for quoting a Texan during his trivializing turkey-pardon who merits a posthumous pardon himself. It would cost him nothing, it's an homage to a revered and influential Texan, and it rebukes Barack Obama after the President used the words of the Texas writer whose pardon was snubbed to commemorate the bullshit ritual of pardoning a turkey.
To which we say, Bravo! See full Grits post here!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Race and Pardons: Some of Our Concerns

By now, the well-known headline is that race matters when it comes to applying for a presidential pardon. Or, at least it did, in the administration of George W. Bush! The proposition emerges from a statistical analysis of 494 pardon applications which were acted upon (granted or denied) by Bush. The research was done by ProPublica and readers can read ProPublica's summary of the data here. Some have expressed "surprise" at the findings, although it is our sense that racial disparities are all-too commonplace in research on the criminal justice system. It some contexts, they have almost reached the level of "assumption" (e.g. disparities in sentencing, death penalty).

Nonetheless, we feel comfortable accepting the findings of this self-proclaimed "first systematic analysis of pardons" (all apologies to Posner and Landes, Humbert, Whitford and Ochs, Erler and the rest) with great caution, at least until some additional information is known. Indeed, the analysis raises several obvious questions (see ProPublica's abbreviated discussion of the data here) which cannot be ignored for long.

For starters, this is clearly an exercise in barefoot empiricism. If you are looking for theoretical insight, look elsewhere. Which is fine, in some circumstances, to a degree. But we are not so certain that the literature on criminal processes and executive clemency (yes, there really is one!) is so sparse, and immature, as to justify too much unguided exploration via flashlight. As demonstrated below, the model pays little or no heed to what has already been discovered / is known regarding the pardon process. And the result is a non-parsimonious statistical model that features almost a dozen variables that are not statistically significant, at traditional levels.

Despite discussion in the text of numerous articles covering this study - in the multivariate analysis - the odds ratio statistics for the bankruptcy and marriage variables are actually insignificant, while the odds ratio for probation/prison is significant. The data on the age of applicants (although apparently collected by researchers) were not actually used in the analysis (see "UPDATE" below). But, while one is searching through social background characteristics, why not control for education levels? Indeed, clemency petitions frequently emphasize the attainment of this or that degree post-conviction. It is certainly possible that such data were not available, but this omission should not go unnoticed.

As the basic assumptions of linear regression are not applicable in logistic regression, the display of a pseudo R-square in the multivariate analysis (while fun) is not, without more, particularly enlightening. In addition, seeing how the data in both the sample and the population are heavily skewed (91 percent of the applications being denied), a more interesting (pertinent) thing to know would be the proportion in reduction of error. PRE statistics tell us how much the model improves our ability to classify outcomes (denials or grants) over mere guessing. And, again, if we guess every application will be denied, we will be right 91 percent of the time. So - at a minimum - the provision of a classification table (standard output in logistic analysis) would be helpful (see "UPDATE" section below).

Given all of what we now know about the timing of pardons (which is far from accidental), it seems peculiar that the analysis does not control for when applications were filed in the Department of Justice, or when they were presented to White House. There are no controls for the applications filed or presented in the fourth and final year of the term, the time when we know most presidents have granted the largest number of pardons. A counter variable could have easily tested the relationship between grants and length of term. One out of every two pardons for the last 39 years has been granted in the month of December. The published work of Posner and Landes give attention to these concerns, yet this analysis appears blind on this point.

On a related point, the U.S. Attorney was, somewhat dramatically, replaced in the Bush administration but there doesn't seem to have been any interest in testing the potential impact ("shock") of the administrative disruption caused by that event in the model.

One aspect of the data that has received particular attention in the press is "congressional support." But - despite the vast literature on party capability in the legal process - the analysis does not appear to take into account legal representation (or lack of representation) in the application process (a factor which might very well be correlated with the race of the applicant).

Even then, as we understand it, "congressional support" is operationalized in the study as 1) forwarding an application or 2) supporting it. But these strike us as two very different things. Furthermore, having looked over some of the correspondence at ProPublica, we are not convinced that there is a clear line between the two. Consequently, we wonder what percentage of the almost 200 instances of "congressional support" were categorized by ProPublica as mere forwarding exercises, and what percentage clearly involved something more like traditional advocacy (information not reported by ProPublica)? See commentary in "UPDATE" below. And, of course, we wonder what were the differences in outcomes for each category, if any (again, not reported)? Our concern, of course, is that advocacy (in the normal sense of the language) did not have any particular impact and, as a result, its impact - at least arguably - is now being much overstated by the media. In addition, we wonder if contacting a member of Congress might not actually be a surrogate measure for several other factors (education, race, quality of the application, strength of the argument in the application, etc.) which might have an impact on the outcome of applications.

ProPublica reports that it could determine the race of only 54 (27 percent) of the 200 applicants with "congressional support." And yet it has the audacity to report "Congressional influence did not account for the racial disparity" in outcomes. It would seem this is a conclusion as of yet untested.

It appears the data in this analysis do not control for whether or not the member of Congress is in the House or the Senate, or even the party identification of each member (how counter-intuitive!). As we understand it, it is ProPublica's position that, since applications are sent to the OPA, officials in the Department of Justice and the Executive Office of the White House are simply unaware of this kind of information. First, it should be noted that ProPublica explicitly rejects the same logic with respect to race (even the White House claims it is unaware of the race of applicants). Second, by this theory, George Bush would have been completely oblivious to the fact that a Republican Senator from Texas was strongly in support of an application. By this theory, it is also a complete coincidence that 8 of the top 10 supposedly clemency-supporting congressmen during the Bush administration were Republican. We respectfully disagree with this line of thought. Similarly, it is well known that President Bush granted the largest number pardons to applicants from Texas (currently, Illinois leads with President Obama). But such considerations appear to have been ignored in this analysis as well. Of course, one also wonders about a possible interaction effect between such variables. In sum, we wonder what the impact of race would be (if any) in a multivariate model that is a little more smartly specified.

For the most part, these nuts and bolts questions leave aside numerous theoretical concerns which, we suspect, will be attended to, once the initial rush of sensational headlines passes. There might, for example, be a very significant self-selection process in operation when it comes to contacting members of Congress. Consequently, the "congressional support" variable may very well say more about the kinds of people who contact members of Congress (as well as the overall quality of their applications) than it does about the impact of the mere use of Congressional stationery. Similarly, before we assert a direct relationship between race and outcomes, it seems practical to also explore (or at least think about) indirect effects. In due course.

UPDATE: 12/9/2011, This afternoon two writers for the ProPublica piece were kind enough to call me to provide me their responses to some of the concerns expressed above. They were also open to fielding some questions. As I understand it, they are not willing - at least currently - to release even a classification results table (in order to assess goodness of fit, or the proportion reduction in error). Nor are they willing to share - at least currently - a correlation matrix for the final model. While this would all be somewhat peculiar behavior for an author in my own discipline (political science), I understand that the world of journalism is (and is certainly allowed to be) very different. On the other hand, there is no small irony to such hopefully unnecessary stone-walling (see second paragraph here).

I should also note the neither of the persons that I spoke with explicitly claimed to be responsible for running the statistical analysis, or claimed to have any degree of expertise with logistic regression. ProPublica reports (here) that the Department of Justice is "reviewing" its statistical analysis, but I cannot imagine that it is much of a review without such basic information as descriptive statistics, a classification results table or a correlation matrix (all standard output in programs that perform logistic regression

I also asked about the distribution of applications which were merely forwarded by members of Congress v. those which involved substantive support. I was told those data were not "at hand," but that I was tersely welcomed to wade through copies of letters on the ProPublica web page and arrive at a determination of the figures (and, I suppose, all decision making rules) myself

Finally, it was made clear to me that ProPublica, however annoyed with me, was very little concerned about any of the issues that I have raised because, to date, I appear to be the only person who has such concerns. It was furthermore noted that, when the DOJ performed its own recent review of clemency in the Bush administration, I was not consulted. I took all of that to mean exactly what I think it was intended to mean, however awkward its delivery, but had to chuckle as it was ProPublica who called me! and asked me to share information freely! More importantly, and more personally satisfying, I say to readers who know me, and those who are familiar with the history and impact of this blog, one word  ... "respite." :-) Thus, the little blog that can marches on, cheerfully!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Texas: Proposition 9

According to the Austin American Statesman, under proposition 9:
The governor will be able to grant a pardon, reprieve or commutation of punishment to a person who completes a sentence of deferred adjudication under Proposition 9. The records previously could be cleared only on the written recommendation and advice of the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
See article here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Obama's Mercy

The Village Voice is covering President Obama non-existent clemency program with particular focus on the case of a 75-year-old former banker, Peter Stanham who sleeps on a bottom bunk in a room with 16 other detainees in a federal immigration jail. Stanham was given a nine year sentence, in 2006, for bank-fraud. So, for five years, his family has been asking Bush and Obama for his release, so he can be deported to his native Uruguay to live out the rest of his days. The judge supports the request (as do four former presidents of Uruguay and 400 others!) and the prosecutor does not oppose it, still ...

Drayton Curry is reported to be the Nation's oldest federal prisoner - at 92. He was sentenced to life in prison, in 1991, under a so-called "three strikes" statute. He has served 20 years, is in poor health, but has a good work record in prison. See full story here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Texas: Duane Buck

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles has recommended against clemency for Duane Edward Buck who is about to be executed for murders committed in 1995. The Journal reports Buck "has admitted guilt," but his lawyers claim he should be re-sentenced, "because a psychologist told jurors at the murder trial that because Buck was black, he was likelier to be violent in the future."  Former Texas Attorney General John Cornyn says the psychologist’s testimony was problematic and, in 2001, the state passed a law barring such testimony in future criminal trials. By law, Texas Governor Perry (and Republican presidential candidate) cannot overturn the Board’s recommendation against clemency. But Perry can grant a temporary stay of execution, allowing additional time for the effort to get a new sentencing hearing. See story here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Founders v. Rick Perry's Irresponsible Rhetoric

In the Federalist papers, notable liberal socialist softy Alexander Hamilton (who was exceptionally angry that George Washington and John Adams did not hang participants in the Whiskey Rebellion and Fries's Rebellion respectively) expressed concern for those who were "unfortunate" enough to be found guilty in our criminal justice system. Hamilton suggested that "exceptions" be made. Indeed, he argued that there should be "easy access" to mercy for such persons because of the tendency for laws to become "sanguinary and cruel." But this particular Founding Father did not deem these views as the simple by-product of mushy concern "humanity." No, in Alexander Hamilton's mind, it was "good policy."

Now, compare Mr. Hamilton's thoughts with the intentional rhetorical self-stylings of Texas Governor Rick Perry. The New Statesman notes that, in his 11 years as Governor, Perry has overseen 234 executions and has commuted three death sentences. Technically, Perry has commuted other death sentences, but only in response to a court order. But his general description of his record in these matters is as follows:
"If you don't support the death penalty ... don't come to Texas."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Leal v. Texas

Humberto Leal Garcia (Leal) was a "Mexican national" who has lived in the United States at least since the age of two. In 1994, Leal kidnaped a 16-year-old girl, raped her with a large stick, and bludgeoned her to death with a piece of asphalt. He was then convicted of mur­der and sentenced to death.

On the eve of execution, Leal sought a stay of execution on the ground that his conviction was obtained in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In an International Court of Justice case (Con­cerning Avena and Other Mexican Nationals), it was ruled that the United States had violated the Vienna Convention by failing to notify Leal of his right to "consular assistance."

In 2008, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (in Medellín v. Texas) that "neither the Avena decision nor the President’s Memorandum purport­ing to implement that decision constituted directly en­forceable federal law." As a result, Leal and the Obama administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the execution so Congress could consider whether or not to enact legisla­tion implementing the Avena decision. Actually, the position was taking that the Due Process Clause prohibited Texas from executing Leal while such legislation was under consideration.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court found the Obama administration's position "meritless." In sum, it concluded the Due Process Clause "does not prohibit a State from carrying out a lawful judgment in light of unenacted legislation."  It added doubt that "it is ever appropriate to stay a lower court judgment in light of unenacted legislation."

The Obama administration and 4 dissenting justices complained that executing Leal would have "grave international consequences." But the Court notes it has been 7 years since the ICJ ruling and 3 years since the ruling in Medellin. This does not suggest that the implementation of Avena "had genuinely been a prior­ity for the political branches."

Finally, the Court studiously notes that the Obama administration made no claim that the outcome of Leal's trial was "prejudiced" by the Vienna Convention violation. The District Court also found that "any violation of the Vienna Convention would have been harmless."

The dissenting opinion covers little ground that is not impressively smothered in the majority opinion. Justice Breyer does, however, render his position seriously lame by complaining that, in reaching its decision, the majority "substitutes its own views about the likelihood of congressional action for the views of Executive Branch officials who have consulted with Members of Congress." One could read the majority opinion from here to eternity and never see a single word related to the probability of legislation passing. It sad when a straw man is more impressive than the rest of one's legitimate arguments.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Watch List: Jury Selection for Clemens

Oh, it seems like just yesterday when Roger Clemens was the focus of very, very mild speculation (most of it within the State of Texas and/or via attorney Richard Emery) concerning a possible last-minute presidential pardon from fellow Texan George W. Bush.

Meanwhile Clemens' lawyerRusty Hardin, more than willing to make a mountain out of a mole hill, maintained that such speculation was the mere sport of the "insane" and/or people (like this blogger) "with too much time on their hands," because his client would "never" be convicted of anything.

Then, Barry Bonds was convicted of obstruction of justice - and is looking at a potential 10-year prison sentence. Then a federal grand jury indicted Clemens for lying to Congress. Today, jury selection is underway. Opening statements are expected next week. Guiding the process is none other than three-time Republican president appointee and former prosecutor Judge Reggie Walton - of Scooter Libby fame. Talk on the street is that Judge Walton is known for his tough sentencing.

One wonders if Mr. Hardin is still using the word "never" around the office!

In public, for now, it appears the only impressive-sounding, witty proclamation of Hardin amounts to the mere promise of a vigorous defense, or at least a great show! Good thing! One count of obstruction of Congress, two counts of perjury and three counts of making false statements amounts to about 30 years of prison (appropriately 4.28 years per Cy Young Award) and more than a million dollars in fines! To date, Hardin's legal strategy has been to reject a plea bargain involving no jail time (for the mere admissions of steroid use) and deride any notion of the potential relevance / value of clemency. So ...

Welcome back to PardonPower's Watch List, Mr. Clemens! We got lots and lots of time on our hands! See story here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Texas: Perry Messes with State Constitution

Article IV, Section 11 of the Texas State Constitution gives the Governor power to grant pardons "in all criminal cases, except treason and impeachment." The Governor's power is, however, clearly limited in that he can exercise it only 1) after conviction and 2) with a written signed recommendation and advice of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, or a majority thereof. No other limitations are provided in, or implied by, the text.

However, in a move that seems to defy all reasonable interpretation of the clear meaning of the State's Constitution - as well as common sense and basic standards of fairness and decency - Governor Rick Perry is taking the position that, somehow, he is unable, or without legal authority, to grant a pardon to one Anthony Graves. Mr. Graves was convicted of the murder of a mother, daughter and four grandchildren and spent 18 years in prison (12 of them on "death row") before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the conviction (based on prosecutorial conduct) and ordered a new trial. The district attorney has announced that a "fair" trial is not now possible, but has also declared Graves "innocent."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Grits on Graves

We think this post, at Grits for Breakfast, strengthens our intuition on the matter of Anthony Graves and adds some impressive layers to our unlawyerly argument. Grits browsed opinions of the Attorney General of the State of Texas and learned that "pardons can't be granted in deferred adjudication cases because the defendant was never 'convicted.'" This appears to plainly follow from the plain wording of the limitations on the governor's power in the State Constitution (Article IV, Section 11).

However, Grits notes, "it's also clear the purpose of pardons is to mitigate the effects of over-harsh punishment, including collateral consequences, which is in line with the purpose requested by Mr. Graves."  A 1944 opinion takes this position, and adds this highly relevant language: "well established rule that the discretion of those lodged with the pardoning power is not a matter which may be controlled or reviewed by the courts." As we noted, in a previous post:
It is fantastic that, upon review, the judicial branch has exercised its own brand of clemency, but we do not read the Texas Constitution to mean that the Governor and the State's Board of Pardons and Paroles cannot also now use their own powers. The clause in the text says "after conviction." It does not say "any time after conviction, unless an alteration occurs in the decision making of the judicial or legislative branch, state or federal."

It is perfectly clear, Constitutionally, that the eligibility point - from the standpoint of the exercise of the governor's power - is the empirical fact of conviction, not what happens in the minds of some other branch of government.
This long-standing position on executive clemency, of course, echoes the U.S. Supreme Court in Ex Parte Garland:
The Constitution provides that the President "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." The power thus conferred is unlimited, with the exception stated. It extends to every offence known to the law, and may be exercised at any time after its commission, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency or after conviction and judgment. This power of the President is not subject to legislative control. Congress can neither limit the effect of his pardon nor exclude from its exercise any class of offenders. The benign prerogative of mercy reposed in him cannot be fettered by any legislative restrictions.
Grits also located an 1881 court ruling which states: "The effect of a full pardon is to absolve the party from all the legal consequences of his crime and of his conviction, direct and collateral, including the punishment, whether of imprisonment, pecuniary penalty, or whatever else the law has provided." Says Grits:
Mr. Graves may have been absolved of his crime, but he has decidedly NOT been absolved from the "consequences ... of his conviction."
See full Grits for Breakfast post here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Texas: Baffling Pardon Logic

In 1994, Anthony Graves was convicted of the murder of a mother, daughter and four grandchildren. But, in 2002, a co-defendant admitted that he had lied in his testimony against Graves. As a result, Graves spent 18 years in prison (12 of them on "death row") before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the conviction and ordered a new trial. There was no retrial, however, because special prosecutors concluded that it could not be done "fairly" and, therefore, dropped the charges. A District Attorney then declared Graves "innocent." There remains, however, unfinished business ...

State law provides persons like Graves $80,000 per year for each year of wrongful imprisonment. But the Comptroller's office has decided Graves cannot benefit in this manner because the court order dismissing the capital murder charges did not contain the words "actual innocence."

Friday, January 28, 2011

NR and the Post on DeLay

In today's Washington Post, Tom Campbell has written and editorial calling for the pardon of the "poster boy" for the "culture of corruption," Tom DeLay. Campbell, who describes himself as no "fan" of DeLay, ran against DeLay in 2006, while complaining of DeLay's "ethical" misconduct lack of "civility" and fiscal irresponsibility. But Campbell believes the only significant difference between DeLay's story and that of Democrat Charles Rangel (who recently stepped down from the House Ways and Means Committee after being censured for 11 rule infractions), is that DeLay is looking at a three-year prrison sentence. Campbell believes that is "manifestly unfair" and says:
... DeLay was a zealot willing to blur the line in pursuit of what he thought to be a good cause, not someone using his office to seek financial gain. There were no personal slush funds, no house remodeled by a lobbyist, no unreported vacation home. He was only trying to build our party.
In this sense, Campbell argues DeLay is not a "bad man," but merely a reflection of "our country's politics over the past 20 years."  Campbell also argues DeLay has been "punished enough," having "lost his place on the national stage" (the horror!) And so, President Obama should pardon DeLay - for a conviction in a state court? See full Post editorial here.

The current issue of National Review doesn't call for DeLay's pardon, but actually makes a better case for such action than Campbell. NR notes DeLay was engaged in "a routine act of political fundraising" and all of the contributions involved were legal. But a "spot-light hungry" prosecutor with "documentary film crew in tow" went through a series of grand juries until he found one willing to believe there was a case against him. The prosecutor then "indicted a number of companies [that] had made perfelty legal contributions to DeLay's PAC, and then sold those companies dismissals in exchange for donations to one of his favorite charities." Says NR:
Tom Delay played brass-knuckesl politics, but that does not mean he belongs in prison

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Texas: Clemency Dysfunction

Brandi Grissom gives the clemency process of Texas a lot of needed attention in the Texas Tribune today. After noting Governor Rick Perry (R) recently granted 8 pardons, the piece starts off with this blast:
Pardoning is a holiday tradition of sorts for state governors and the president, who, at the end of each year, name the fortunate few former offenders whose records will get wiped clean ...“It’s not much different than pardoning a Thanksgiving turkey,” says Scott Henson, who writes the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast. “They just pick eight or nine trivial cases at Christmas time.”
While Perry has been no George W. Bush (who granted only 21 pardons), he is making his mark, or non-mark, on clemency. He has granted 180 pardons since 2001. On the other hand, former Governor Mark White (D) granted almost 500 pardons and former Governor Bill Clements (R) granted more than 800. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Sate's Board of Pardons and Paroles (whose members the governor appoints), has recommended clemency to Perry in more than 530 cases. The result, a steady, very slight, trickle of Holiday pardons:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Grits on Recent Texas Pardons

Scott Henson (Grits for Breakfast) is all over the Governor of Texas re a recent lame batch of pardons. Says Henson:
Indeed, it's hard to not consider these pardons a "joke" when you look at the details. E.g., a 73-year old man was granted clemency for a theft conviction from 1955. If the governor had waited any longer he might have had to issue his second ever posthumous pardon. Another pardon recipient spent three days in jail 31 years ago for unlawfully carrying a handgun. If it's true that justice delayed is justice denied, these latter-day pardons hardly constitute justice.

And why pardon one individual who "was convicted of possession of marihuana in 1971 at the age of 21"? What does it really matter if someone is pardoned who received a probated sentence 40 years ago? There are hundreds of thousands of others in the exact same position, after all, who will never benefit from such gubernatorial largesse.

In 2009, 57.9% of all drug arrests in Texas were for marijuana - a total of 69,956 adults. Similar numbers are arrested for marijuana possession annually, and there's no reason to believe this one individual is any more deserving than others who've been arrested for that offense. Issuing a pardon on a 40 year old pot charge is insulting not just to the person pardoned but to the hundreds of thousands of other people similarly positioned who did not receive clemency. If the Governor is going to issue pardons for such petty offenses, the only fair thing to do would be to pardon entire classes of offenders - for example, pot offenders with no other convictions on their record.
See the full, rather snappy post here!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Texas: Eight Pardons

It is reported that Governor Perry has granted clemency to eight individuals. Each applicant was "favorably recommended for clemency" by the State's Board of Pardons and Paroles. Among the offenses addressed were: criminal mischief and theft (1996), criminal mischief (1999), burglary (1986), theft (1985), unlawfully carrying a handgun (?), theft (1990), theft (1955), possession of marihuana (1971). See story here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Texas: Perry's Clemency Record

Over at Grits for Breakfast, Scott Henson and fine folks are expecting Governor Perry to grant Holiday pardons "like clockwork." But they also provide a great service by showing aggregate data for clemency decisions throughout the entirety of Perry's administration (cases considered, recommendations for clemency and actual grants). In addition, percentages are  reported for recommendations, grants and the overall chance of obtaining clemency.

Altogether, the State's Board of Pardons and Paroles has considered 1,916 cases. The Board has also recommended clemency in 423 of those cases. Governor Perry, however, has only granted clemency in 124 instances. Thus, on average (annually), Rick Perry disagrees with the recommendations of the State's Board a whopping 75 percent of the time. See full post here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Other Basketball Great from North Carolina

Charles "Tex" Harrison was a star basketball player at North Carolina Central and became the first player from a predominately black school to be named "All-American." He went on to become a long-time star of the world renowned Harlem Globetrotters. But Harrison found more serious competition than the Washington Generals when Customs Service officials at Houston’s International Airport arrested him in the 1960's.

Harrison was charged with "unlawful possession of narcotics without paid transfer tax" because he was caught carrying less than an ounce of marihuana and hashish. A conviction followed on November 24, 1965, and Harrison was fined two thousand dollars. The sentence was, however, modified on January 21, 1966. Harrison was given five year’s probation and the fine was reduced to only five hundred dollars.

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