Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Prospects bleak for clemency in 21st century

Barack Obama's record in clemency is better than it was when this blog, with Peter Ruckman's Pardon Power, launched a web campaign asking the president to pardon the writer O. Henry in order to highlight Obama's dereliction on clemency matters. (The president quoted O. Henry, whose own federal pardon application was once turned down, while pardoning two turkeys, which at the time rivaled the number of people who had experienced his mercy.) Since then, he's done a few things. At this late stage of his presidency, Ruckman reported yesterday:
President Obama has granted 70 pardons (4 conditional) and 187 commutations of sentence (6 conditional). The figure for pardons is lowest for any full term president since the administration of John Adams (1797 to 1801). The figure for commutations is better than most recent presidents, who were both notoriously neglectful of the pardon power and received far fewer applications (see second chart, below). 150 of President Obama's 257 total grants (or 58 percent) have been granted in a single month alone, December.
Recently, the Pardon Attorney at USDOJ issued a letter of resignation. Reported USA Today, "Her resignation letter suggests a broken and bureaucratic process at odds with President Obama's own aim to exercise his pardon power "more aggressively" in the final months of his presidency." Moreover, reported the paper, her office is swamped with insufficient resources to do its job:
Since the administration announced the initiative in 2014, applications for clemency have exploded. There are now 10,073 clemency cases pending — three times as many as in 2013. And that doesn't count thousands more cases seeking free legal help through the Clemency Project, an outside consortium set up to assist with the initiative.

When he announced the initiative in April 2014, then-Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole said the department had "pledged to provide the necessary resources to fulfill this goal expeditiously." While the administration didn't set a target for the number of cases, former Attorney General Eric Holder told the Washington Post last year that he had hoped that as many as 10,000 people could have their sentences reduced under the program. So far, Obama has granted less than 2% of those.
That said, here in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott's stinginess on clemency compares unfavorably even with the president's parsimonious record, as well as Rick Perry's before him. For the most part, whether presidents or governors, the executive branch in 21st century American democracy remains mostly immune, seemingly, even to valid, individual pleas for mercy, much less calls to use clemency to directly confront the ills of mass incarceration.

5 comments:

Chris Simons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Simons said...

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Anonymous said...

Greg Abbott's role here is a blurred one. He was Attorney General and therefore was part of the prosecuting arm of the State for many years. He therefore supervised the State's response to innumerable habeas corpus applications in both non-capital and capital cases once they were in federal court. And now he decides whether those same inmates get clemency. Can we say "conflict of interest"? That's a challenge that the courts have rejected but it still don't smell right. But when have ethics ever worried Abbott? This is the guy who declared a Chris Kyle (think "American Sniper") day - shortly before Kyle's probably insane killer, Eddie Routh, went to trial in Erath County. Not that that was intentionally prejudicial to Routh or anything ...

Anonymous said...

Well, at least this happened today:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/03/30/here-are-the-61-people-whose-sentences-obama-just-commuted/

BILL HABERN said...

Our law firm in the past filed many applications for pardons and we have had some success. However, for the last few years we have discouraged even those who have truly earned a serious consideration to be pardoned, and who have done much to contribute to society after recovering from a conviction that wish to seek a pardon we discourage from the effort. I just wonder how long Willy Horton will continue to haunt the halls of politicians who have the authority to say yes to someone who has become an outstanding citizen.

The whole pardon arena is gone to hell while many deserving ex offenders have proven they are worthy of a totally new start.

Bill Habern
Habern, O'Neil and Asso
Not a partnership
Houston, Texas