Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Clemmons. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Clemmons. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Clemmons Problem? Or Media Problem?

Jonathan Martin of the Seattle Times has announced ever so ominously that,
If former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is going to run for president in 2016, his campaign is going to have to run through the Forza coffee shop in Parkland, Wash. That’s where one of Huckabee’s many parolees, Maurice Clemmons, assassinated four Lakewood police officers in 2009, depriving nine children of a parent and setting a national perception that Huckabee abused his powers of clemency. 
Martin says Huckabee's "Maurice Clemmons problem" exists because Huckabee "freed Clemmons from a 108-year sentence in 2000." Seemingly to prop up the claim, Martin notes Huckabee "granted more pardons and commutations - 1,033 - than his three predecessors (including Bill Clinton) combined."

But the "Maurice Clemmons problem" is really a "poorly informed / sensationalist media problem." Martin was clever enough to identify a "perception" that Huckabee abused his clemency powers in the case of Clemmons, but boorish enough not to say what the primary mover of that perception was: second (if not third) rate - and often outright misleading - media reporting.

Mike Huckabee did not set Clemmons free, much less "abuse" his pardon power in the process. Clemmons had been given a 108-year sentence at the age of 16 (nothing to see there!). In 2000, Huckabee merely commuted that sentence - not to time served mind you - but to 47 years. By that point, Clemmons had served eleven years, but no one was set free.

Huckabee did not have the power to simply grant parole. Nor does parole rain from the sky in Arkansas. It does not flow from public drinking fountains. Arkansas has a Post-Prison Transfer Board which makes recommendations for parole to the governor after thorough investigation of each application. After reviewing Clemmons' request (supported by the sentencing judge), that Board unanimously agree to set Clemmons free, if you will - although with supervision. Clemmons could have been a bone head as Governor Jan Brewer was in the case of William Macumber. But, as he later explained:
... Clemmons met the criteria for parole and was paroled to supervision in late 2000. When he violated the terms of his parole, he was returned to prison and should have remained behind bars. For reasons only the prosecutor can explain, he ended up dropping the charges, allowing Clemmons to leave prison and return to supervised parole. Clemmons moved to his native Washington State and engaged in intermittent criminal activity that increased in violence and frequency. He was arrested on charges of raping a child, yet was allowed to post bail in Washington. While out on bail, he committed the unspeakable acts of murdering four valiant police officers.
And, as Huckabee also explains:
If I could have possibly known what Clemmons would do nine years later, I obviously would have made a different decision. If I only had the same information I had then, I would make the same decision. 
Huckabee can certainly be roundly condemned for failing to predict the future and being unable to connect dots that no one else around him could connect. And Martin certainly looks brilliant, well after the fact. As for playing on the Nixonian phobias ... not so impressive. The Maurice Clemmons problem is largely a problem of unimpressive second-guessing by media too lazy to write well, but desperate to manufacture more controversy than warranted. See full editorial here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

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)!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Clemmons' Commutation for Parole Eligibility

Recent reporting regarding Maurice Clemmons, the suspect in the fatal shooting of four police officers in Seattle, is providing excellent material for understanding the dangers of the anecdote and the short-term benefits of sloppy reporting. As most of us know by now, Clemmons once had a 95 to 108-year prison sentence commuted by then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.


At least part of the logic behind the decision making at the time was that Clemmons was sentenced for crimes that he had committed when he was only 16-years old and that he had served 11 years of his sentence - readers should certainly feel free to assess the quality of that logic on its face. For what it is worth, Abraham Lincoln used it regularly in his own clemency decisions. And, by the way, you read that right up top. The guy was sentenced to 95 to 108 years! What on earth did he do? Murder ten people and rob banks inbetween? Go ahead, cut through the awful "reporting" and find out the answer for yourself.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Post: Beating Huckabee's Dead Horse Once More (for Cheap Thrills)

The Washington Post reports that former Governor Mike Huckabee "granted clemency" to a "killer" (Maurice Clemmons) "despite" Clemmons' record. But, before another reader trips over a long-dead horse, let it be repeated: Mike Huckabee did not grant a pardon to Maurice Clemmons. He merely commuted Clemmons' sentence, making Clemmons eligible for parole. That is to say, Huckabee granted neither pardon nor parole.

Huckabee's decision was guided, in part, by more than legitimate concerns about the potential effect of racism in the 108-year sentence Clemmons received as a 16-year old - you know, the same concern people are expressing with regard to the Scott sisters. After an examination of Clemmons' case, a State board then unanimously decided to release him.

Yet, oddly, the Post focuses on Clemmons' "record" of violence in prison, and says little or nothing critical of the Board's decision. The focus is, instead on Huckabee "a potential candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2012." That speaks for itself. See Post article here.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Washington: Stumbling, Bumbling Media

The reports that "prospective 2012 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says he would make the same decision" regarding Maurice Clemmons, "if given the same information he had at the time." But the author of the piece cannot create a complete paragraph without screwing up the facts:
Huckabee commented on his decision that freed Maurice Clemmons in a lengthy profile that appears in the June 28 New Yorker.
No, kucklehead. Read the 1,000 articles written on this topic and see if you can't fact check a little better. Huckabee did not "free" Clemmons in any normal sense of the English language. His commutation of sentence simply made Clemmons eligible for parole/release. An official body of individuals made the decision to release Clemmons, not Huckabee.

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).

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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Toobin: Still the Worst of the Worst

When Jeffrey Toobin last stepped on the public stage re the pardon power, he was parroting the ignorant line that President Bush would have to grant a pardon to Scooter Libby, or Libby would go to jail. He seemed to have no idea what a commutation of sentence was, or a respite. It was a dramatically pathetic display for such a high profile "legal expert."

Now, Toobin is back, suggesting President Obama's "orderly mind" - and the fact that he is a "consummate rationalist" - is the cause of his disastrous record in the matter of clemency - the foolish premise being that pardons are outside of the world of separation of powers and checks and balances ... you know ... the Constitutional order and what not.

No, to Toobin, a merciless administration is a really smart one.

"Pardons," Toobin writes, "rely exclusively on the whim of the grantor." If, by that, he means, it is an executive power, then sure. Just like legislation relies exclusively on the whim of the legislature. And judicial review relies on the whim of courts. And ... you get the idea.

But, worse, Toobin carpet bombs his readers with stupidity when he fails to recognize the fact that there is a Department of Justice, an Office of the Pardon Attorney, the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, the Deputy Attorney General, judges and U.S. Attorneys who vet clemency applications. Presidents are not sitting in bed late at night, reading thousands of applications, one a time, by candlelight, then flipping a coin and making decisions on how they feel right before they dose off. Maybe Toobin does not know what the word "whim" means.

Toobin writes, "his Presidential power is descended from the concept known in Great Britain as the royal prerogative of mercy"- which is great stuff for Hallmark greeting cards. But what he needs to do is pick up the Federalist papers and see Alexander Hamilton's discussion of the matter. The Founding Fathers developed an orderly Republic featuring a very rational system of checks and balances because they assumed judges and legislators are not perfect - Toobin may disagree. Regardless, presidents are not kings. We elect them. We override their vetoes. We cut off their funding. And we can impeach them to boot.

Toobin writes: "A commutation allows a convict to leave prison at a designated date." Wrong. It reduces the severity of a sentence. Toobin should know that. Scooter Libby never served a day in prison but received a commutation of sentence.

Toobin writes: "In seven years, Obama has now issued ... only sixty-one pardons." Wrong. Obama has granted 66 pardons.

Toobin writes: "All Presidents and governors (who also have pardon power) are haunted by the possibility that they might release someone who goes on to commit horrible crimes. (Former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas pardoned several people who did just that.)"

Gaaawwwd ! While encouraging the President to pardon, Toobin unwittingly spreads the virus that has persistently discouraged pardoning: stupid commentary. Huckabee did not pardon Maurice Clemmons. Clemmons has never been pardoned by anyone. Further, Clemmons was released via the decision of a parole board, not a pardon. Beat up on them, Mr. Toobin. Show off. Look up their names.

When it comes to bad commentary about pardons, Jeffrey Toobin is hard to beat. See this train wreck here.

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.

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

L.A. Times: Above the Fray. Bravo!

The L.A. Times features an editorial entitled "In Huckabee's Mike Defense." Among other things it notes:
Clemmons was 16 years old when he committed the string of robberies and burglaries that resulted in his 1989 conviction, and his sentence was astonishingly harsh for such a young perpetrator. A county circuit judge supported Clemmons' application for clemency a decade later. Huckabee made Clemmons immediately eligible for parole by cutting his sentence in half, but the decision to set him free was made by the parole board. It's unreasonable to expect Huckabee to have anticipated the events in Parkland nine years later.

See full editorial here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Washington: Reaction to Clemmons

The Seattle Times reports the Maurice Clemmons episode has resulted in at least one piece of legislation. Engrossed Substitute House Joint Resolution 4220 (aka the "no-bail amendment") was approved with more than 85 percent of the votes. According to the Times:
... it allows a judge to deny bail to persons charged with an offense punishable by life in prison. These include a third-strike felony, rape of a child, murder or other serious crimes. Before denying bail, a judge also must find clear and convincing evidence the defendant has a propensity for violence and poses a likely danger to the public. The no-bail amendment was proposed by lawmakers in direct response to last year's killing of four Lakewood police officers.
See story here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ohio: Clemency Success Stories

Laura A. Bischoff, of the Dayton Daily News, is presenting a series of stories on individuals who have been the recipients of clemency in the State of Ohio. But hold your horses! None of them presents the Maurice Clemmons scenario - which is to say, they are all much, much more representative of the hundreds and thousands of individuals who have benefited from mercy (state and federal) who have gone on live quite, productive, law-abiding lives.

They don't usually make the headlines. There isn't any political payoff to misrepresenting their records or distorting the facts in relation to the decision making that led to their pardon, or commutation of sentence. As a result, these are great stories, and they very useful. They can serve to realign excitability and perceptions with cold, hard fact. Lord knows we are all in need of this kind of realignment after the bumpy "reporting" of the Clemmons' affair! Please take a few minutes to check out this great reporting:

* Path to Redemption: Pardons Reward Ex Cons' Determination
* Pardons Erase Mistakes of Ex-Cons Seeking New Lives
* Former Dayton Cop Became Model Citizen After Prison
* After Serving Time for Killing Man, Mother Can Begin New Life
* After Years of Drugs, Stealing Dayton Native Turned Around

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.

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.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Romney's Contribution to Clemency Ignorance

Mitt Romney is quoted as saying:
"My conclusion was if somebody has been convicted by a jury of their peers and they have been prosecuted and the police were able to get the evidence necessary to put them behind bars, why in the world would I step in and reverse that sentence?"
See story here. The quote was, of course, meant to be in relation to Gov. Huckabee and the Maurice Clemmons case. On the other hand, as it is now well-known, Huckabee did not "reverse" Clemmons' sentence (at least not in any normal sense of the English language).

No one knows if Romney would take the same position - of refusing to do anything - if 1) a judge recommended a modification of a sentence for a prisoner 2) a state parole board unanimously recommended the same modification and 3) the original sentencing judge did not oppose the recommendation. What would Romney do then, and why?

PardonPower is also interested in knowing if Romney is aware of DNA evidence and the manner in which, on occasion. it can render the decision making of juries and the police stupid, unjust.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

NY Mag on Huckabee

The following is an excerpt from New York Magazine:
... But, despite the blame being heaped upon Huckabee, Clemmons's clemency request was supported by a county circuit judge, and his parole was unanimously approved by a parole board. It also goes without saying that nobody would have supported letting him out of prison if they thought he would have a mental breakdown nine years later and commit murder. Furthermore, Clemmons has been back in jail repeatedly since his initial release, only to be set free again and again for various reasons unrelated to Huckabee ...
See entire article here.

Arkansas: OMG! They Are At It AGAIN !!!

The same very board that recommended that Mike Huckabee commute the sentence of cop killer Maurice Clemmons is now recommending (unanimously) that Gov. Mike Beebe make convicted drug dealer Billy Welch immediately eligible for parole with a commutation of sentence. Welch, a convicted drug dealing criminal, is serving two life sentences - which one of the board members considers "excessive?" In addition, he has only served 13 years of his two-life sentences (just two more than cop killer Maurice Clemmons). There is some other minor detail about Welch having cancer, but did we mention he was a criminal?

Don't these people read the papers ??? See article here

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

CS Monitor: Hold Your Horses!

PardonPower recently noted that "reporting regarding Maurice Clemmons, the suspect in the fatal shooting of four police officers in Seattle, is providing excellent material for understanding the dangers of the anecdote ..."

Today, an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor echos our concern. The Monitor notes the "extraordinary nature" of the case is "reason for caution" because "high-profile crimes have a tendency to rank emotion over reason when it comes to the criminal justice system." The piece notes "there's little political downside to letting prisoner appeals pile up," but:
But Huckabee is also right. Redemption is possible - given the right cases, the right preparation, and adequate support once an inmate is back on the outside. And the justice system is not always just - from cookie-cutter mandatory minimum sentences to inadequate defense representation in capital cases.
The Monitor notes we are the "prison capital of the world" but shrinking budgets are forcing corrections officials reconsider prison reforms. Among other things, "they're reducing the sentences of nonviolent offenders, and diverting early nonviolent offenders into rehab programs. They're granting more parole - but focusing their monitoring on high-risk parolees." But
... the risk of a high-profile case such as Clemmons's is that it will bring a backlash leading to a wrong policy. That it will continue to discourage clemency, for instance, or that it will somehow slow the momentum toward reform.
PardonPower agrees with the Monitor that we should all be careful about "drawing broad conclusions from an exceptional case." See full editorial here.

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