‘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. 

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