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

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.

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.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bernard Goldberg's Unmerciful Ignorance

In this wildly unimpressive piece, Bernard Goldberg tries his hand at analysis of the clemency power which the Federalist Papers deemed so important to our system of criminal justice. Goldberg is no clemency expert, or even a student of the topic. He just knows what he reads in the newspapers, when freakish and rare "pardon scandals" attract the attention of everyone else. Imagine the quality that is about to follow!

First, Goldberg starts a ripping on Haley Barbour - thanks, Haley, you have done the pardon power so much good! Of course, this blog has done quite a bit of Haley Barbour ripping - but always at the expense of Haley Barbour, never at the expense of the pardon power. Golberg says "when Governor Haley Barbour pardoned a number of murderers on his last day in office, he was acting in the proud tradition of several other political hacks."

The impressive list that follows? Four names. Bill Clinton, Michael Dukakis, Mike Huckabee and George Ryan. Yep, no mention of Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush or Reagan. Go figure.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pardons: The Unimportant Topic that Makes / Breaks Candidates

We often receive e-mails and comments which essentially make the same point: Who cares about pardons? There are so many other important things about which to be concerned. Why should anyone bother so much about the circumstances of criminals? 

Presidential election campaigns must be very odd things for persons of this mindset to behold. Consider the last go-round, in 2008:

Hillary Clinton was asked about her husband's questionable pardons when it was observed that several recipients were making donations to her campaign. When she badgered Barack Obama about his relationship with Bill Ayers, in a Nationally televised debate, Obama bluntly reminded Mrs. Clinton that her husband pardoned several of Ayers' associates in the Weather Underground. Obama was asked whether or not he would consider a pardon for Tony Rezko. Rudolph Giuliani was asked if he would pardon Bernard Kerik. Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was asked if she would pardon Senator Ted Stevens. Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden said he was not to keen on the idea of a pardon for Jonathan Pollard. Every Republican candidate was asked, during the debates, how they felt about a potential pardon for Scooter Libby. And every Democratic candidate had something to say about the eventual commutation of sentence he received from George W. Bush. Mitt Romney downright bragged about the fact that he never granted pardons. Mike Huckabee was roundly criticized for granting too many.

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.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

L.A. Times on the "No Pardon President"

The L.A. Times features an editorial which discribes President Obama's clemency program, or "non-clemency" program, a "disappointment." Noting that there is no "shortage" of applicants, the Times complains that it is "hard to believe" that none are deserving of mercy. We could not agree more.

But the Times also argues that the public "associates" the pardon power with Ford's pardon of Richard M. Nixon, Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich or Bush's commutation for Scooter Libby. To the extent that this is true, however, it is largely the fault of the media, which over consistently over-emphasizes "controversial" cases and fails to balance such reporting with an emphasis on the typical presidential pardon (an act which merely restores the civil rights of individuals who have served their time and have become productive, law-abiding members of society).

In addition, there are those many reporters who insist on the cheap thrill by misrepresenting clemency decisions in order to fabricate controversy (e.g., by focusing entirely on criticisms of clemency decisions and failing to report the justifications for such decisions, by claiming pardons are springing hardened criminals from prisons and tossing them into the streets, etc.). Witness the very sorry media coverage of Mike Huckabee's decision making re Maurice Clemmons!

In sum, we hope the president changes. But we also hope that members of the news media will change as well. See Times editorial here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Arkansas: After the Fact Genius!

Max Brantley at the Arkansas Times' "Arkansas Blog" is still still trying to make political hay out of the Maurice Clemmons incident. He makes a seemingly great point : "But you'd search without success for Clinton clemency beneficiaries who went on to murder multiple times."

But, of course, he really shoots off the foot of his own argument. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find any example of someone who was pardoned who "went on to murder multiple time" state or federal, anywhere in American history. That is exactly the point. The episode was a freakish and rare event.

That is exactly why we should all reject after-the fact-commentary on this matter masquerading as legitimate criticism and/or analysis. Anyone acting like they would have clearly seen what no one else saw deserves nothing but scorn and rebuke. Brantley is, evidently, no smarter than Huckabee. After all, he (Brantley) made no predictions about the murders. Nor did anyone else. That's right, not one person. I guess if Huckabee is an idiot, then we all are and Brantley should man up and stand in line with the rest of the idiots. See Brantley's comments here.

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.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Delware: Recommendation

The Dover Post reports that the State's Board of Pardons has recommended (in a split vote) that the life sentence of 64-year old Judith A. McBride be commuted to life with the possibility of parole. McBride was convicted of conspiracy to commit the murder of her estranged husband, who was found in a bathtub stabbed 27 times (10 times in the face). If you are the kind of person who is still stumbling and bumbling over the basic facts in the Maurice Clemmons case, or you have the perverted sense of justice that Jan Brewer displays, you need not read further. This story will be much, much more than you are likely to be able to handle.

McBride claimed she had been the victim of domestic abuse during her two-year marriage. But the board also noted that, since her 1982 conviction, at least five others had been convicted in Delaware of a similar crime but received lesser sentences "due to extenuating circumstances." In 1993, then-Attorney General Charles Oberly was quoted as saying, “If [McBride’s] case came in today, we may very well let her plead guilty to manslaughter or murder second-degree, and she’d be out of here by now.” More recently, a Chief Deputy Attorney General has said "the case would have been treated differently today insofar as today it would be subject to a capital case review process before a determination was made to seek capital sentencing,” he wrote." See story here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jan Brewer's "Personal" Justice: A Real Creature Feature

Occasionally (some say not enough, others say all too often), an execution takes place in the United States. These episodes are often accompanied by a flurry of last-minute appeals to courts, clemency boards and/or governors. When it is clear that the final call will be made by the governor, one can just about always expect some kind of formal statement, explaining the decision to allow the process to go forward without interruption.

These public statements are the byproduct of external and internal forces. Polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans favor the death penalty. Governors are certainly aware of this. So, however grim the circumstances, most of them probably feel comfortable issuing what they know will be widely publicized statements which tap into the potentially beneficial stream of majoritarian politics.

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.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Washington: Clemency Process On Hold

Jonathan Martin of the Seattle Times has written a somewhat sweeping (and occasionally rambling) article on the use of clemency in the states. It begins by noting Governor Chris Gregoire has granted an "extremely rare" pardon - to a man who was deported after being advised that a guilty plea would result in no punishment at all. Indeed, Martin notes Gregoire had granted clemency 26 times in 53 months, but shut down clemency activity since the media's shoddy treatment of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (in the Maurice Clemmons case). Meanwhile, the states Clemency and Pardons Board has unanimously recommended clemency in at least 14 cases!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Arizona: Clemency Mystery

Last August (that is nine months ago), the State's five member Board of Executive Clemency unanimously recommended that 75 year old Bill Macumber be released from prison because there was "substantial doubt" as to his guilt. No, not any of the wishy-washy "rehabilitation" stuff. The man is thought to be innocent!

Macumber was charged with a double homicide in 1974. The murders actually took place in 1962. Governor Jan Brewer (R), on the other hand, denied Macumber's application for clemency without explanation three months after the Board's unanimous recommendation and, it appears, is stonewalling any attempt by anyone to understand why. As it is reported:

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.

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).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Speaking of Bizarre Pardons!

Over at Slate, Radley Balko argues it is high time that the recent round of scrutiny directed toward Mike Huckabee (for the commutation of sentence granted to Maurice Clemmons) be shifted toward "one of Huckabee's possible competitors for the [2012 GOP presidential] nomination, Haley Barbour" (Governor of Mississippi). What follows is a wildly entertaining description of Barbour's "bizarre" pardon record.

In the last two years, Barbour has "pardoned, granted clemency to, or suspended the sentences" of at least five convicted murderers "four of whom killed their wives or girlfriends" and he has pardoned a man "convicted and sentenced to life for robbing and murdering an elderly man." The common denominator among them: participation in a program that allowed them to do odd jobs around the Governor's mansion. [Shotgun-totting deputy wearing permanent frown and dark sun glasses enter stage right]. At the same time, Balko reports, Barbour has been downright peculiar in his failure to use the pardon power to further exonerate individuals who have been declared innocent via DNA testing. [Sweaty prisoner in dirty "wife beater" carrying pot full of hard boiled eggs enter stage right]

What does it all mean? Balko argues governors too often "bestow redemption on guilty people who claim that they're rehabilitated" and this "converts the pardon from a check on an imperfect system to an almost religious capacity for conferring forgiveness, for reasons often more personal than related to public policy."And that is why "Barbour is handing out mercy to killers while paying no heed to the staggeringly flawed system operating right under his nose." Indeed, one might call it "a failure to communicate."

See entire article 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.

Huckabee Explains

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has written a piece for the Washington Post explaining his decision making in the Maurice Clemmons case. See the entire piece here.

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.

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