‘Tis The Season For Clemency

George Lavender

At least in some parts of the country.

Clemency is the general term for the power to either commute someone’s sentence or pardon their crime. Across the country, governors and the president used the holiday season to exercise this executive power to commute and pardon hundreds of sentences, many of them for drug offenses.

As the Chicago Tribune reports outgoing Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was among those to do so.

After inheriting a backlog of more than 2,800 requests that now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich took no action on during his tenure, Quinn’s office said he has acted on 3,962 clemency petitions, granting 1,418 and denying 2,544 petitions, since taking over in 2009.

That represents a nearly 36 percent approval rate for the petitions he has considered, which experts say ranks among the highest for any current governor. Continue reading…

Governor Quinn was not the only outgoing governor to use their power of clemency to pardon some of those convicted of drug offenses. Governor Mike Beebe, whose term expires next year announced earlier this month that he will pardon his own son for a 2003 marijuana conviction. Vox notes Beebe could right that wrong for a lot more Arkansas families if he wanted to.” Beebe’s son was one of 5, 876 people arrested for marijuana possession that year. An ACLU study found black Arkansans were three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. 

In California Governor Jerry Brown issued 105 pardons on Christmas Eve before retracting one just hours later. As the Associated Press reports, Glen William Carnes was originally on the list of pardons, for a drug-related conviction committed as a teenager but the pardon had not yet been signed by the secretary of state and was withdrawn after inquiries by the Los Angeles Times.

Federal records show that Carnes was disciplined by investment regulators in May 2013 for allegations including false and misleading statements.

Carnes did not admit guilt or request a review, but he signed a consent settlement with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority agreeing to be barred from financial investment. Allegations included that he violated his former company’s policy by participating in an unapproved private securities transaction” and provided investigators with false and misleading statements that minimized and mischaracterized his involvement.”

Carnes was reached by The Associated Press on Wednesday evening as he was sitting down with his children, wife, and family from out of town for Christmas tamales. He had not heard about the retraction, and they had been celebrating all week.

Oh my God. You’ve got to be kidding me,” Carnes said in a phone interview. I was told by attorneys that it didn’t need to be disclosed” because it wasn’t a conviction, which is what the paperwork requests. He said the sanction was for a technicality — not filing a form letter with his company to get authorization to do volunteer consulting on the side. Continue reading…

Brown has granted 510 pardons since taking office in 2011 but other governors, including Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, have used the power infrequently or not at all. That changed in Massachusetts earlier this month, when the Governor’s Council approved the first clemency requests in more than a decade. 

The council voted 6-2 to approve Gov. Deval Patrick’s decision to commute the 7 ½-year sentence of Deanne Hamilton, formerly of Brockton, who was convicted of possession of about 3.3 grams of cocaine and possession with intent to distribute the drug in a school zone. The vote makes Hamilton, a onetime drug addict who argued that she had turned her life around and was drug-free, immediately eligible for parole. Continue reading…

Not everyone has been feeling the seasonal spirit. In Maryland, Governor O’Malley has been less inclined to use his powers of executive clemency, according to the Baltimore Sun

The Democratic governor has rejected nearly 1,300 cases that have come across his desk. Even after the General Assembly passed legislation intended to prod him to make a decision on requests for certain commutations, he has granted only 133 pardons over the past three years, according to a review of public records by The Baltimore Sun. In his first five years, he granted 13. Continue reading…

As reported here at The Prison Complex, President Barack Obama has so far used his clemency powers much more sparingly than many of his predecessors. In December he granted eight commutations and twelve pardons. 

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George Lavender is an award-winning radio and print journalist based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @GeorgeLavender.
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