Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pondering the Ghosts of Christmas Pardons Past, Present and Future

Will Texas Gov. Rick Perry issue one last round of Christmas-time pardons on his way out the door?

The future of executive clemency looks bleak.
Image from A Christmas Carol, 1951.
Usually he'd do it this week. (The sign of a clemency geek: I've been keeping the governor's web page up in a browser tab and periodically refreshing it. At least I'm up to date on the governor's views on the Australian hostage crisis and Chanukah.) Grits notoriously is not a great fan of the Christmas pardon phenomenon, but for the most part, with a few notable exceptions (especially early in his governorship), Perry has restricted routine exercises of clemency to a minimalist, annual pre-Christmas ritual.

One also wonders as pardon season approaches about Greg Abbott and what his clemency policy will look like as governor. Rick Perry rejected two thirds of positive recommendations he received from his appointees on the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Will Greg Abbott approve them at higher rates? What instructions will he give BPP appointees on clemency? What questions related to clemency will his staff ask potential BPP appointees during the vetting process? Might he be willing to revisit clemency requests which were approved by the BPP but rejected or never acted upon by Rick Perry? Will Gov. Abbott treat clemency as an ongoing, year-round executive function or limit pardon announcements to a few, symbolic Christmas-time public relations gambits? Nobody ever asked the governor-elect any of these questions on the campaign trail so I guess we must wait and see.

Grits hopes we see one more clemency announcement from Rick Perry, who can afford to be generous on his way out the door. But even more, I hope Greg Abbott ends this annual charade and integrates the clemency function more deeply and thoughtfully into the day-to-day duties of the state executive. With a few, notable exceptions (the Tulia cases, DNA exonerees, death-sentence commutations to comply with US Supreme Court orders) Rick Perry either ignored clemency or treated it as a political prop. Most years, an annual announcement during the holiday season of 10-20 lucky winners of the clemency lottery was the most one could hope for.

But clemency is one of the core duties of a state executive, in Texas filtered through the governor's appointees at the Board of Pardons and Paroles. It shouldn't just be a once-a-year thing and if two-thirds of the BPPs recommendations are to be rejected, reasons ought to be given.

There are many good explanations for the rise of mass incarceration in America over the last four decades, but one contributing factor you don't hear discussed very often is that mass imprisonment coincided with a precipitous decline both in the exercise of executive clemency and judges' habeas corpus power, both of which became more timid, stilted and stymied as they fell under sustained political attack, especially surrounding the death penalty. But these are the two main remedies for overincarceration envisioned by constitutional framers. So if the executive and judicial branches are incapable of reining in mass imprisonment, allowing the tools granted them for that purpose to atrophy from disuse, that leaves the legislative branch which largely created the problem in the first place. In Texas, the Lege is slowly reconsidering its predilection for expensive, lock-em-up solutions to every social problem. But that process would go faster if the governor and the courts exercised leadership on clemency using the means already at their disposal.

WANT MORE ON PARDONS? For current news on Christmas-time pardons from other states and from the Pardon-Grinch-in-Chief President Obama, don't forget to check the blog Pardon Power by the inestimable P.S. Ruckman, who tracks clemency issues nationwide and around the globe.


The Old Skool Preacher said...

The media must bare most of the blame for the timidity in the politicans. The politican who would dare to release an offender through the clemency and pardon process becomes the ''judea goat'' bearing the sin of the release.
That must change before we have higher numbers.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Henson,

Is there a way to email/contact you directly? If you don't want to post it here, you can send it to my email address at:


Thomas R. Griffith said...

When discussing the Pardon in regards to Texas, one must take into consideration that there are actually two Types one can apply for. Add that to the current status of the Applicant (incarcerated & not incarcerated) being considered along with the answer to the Question - *provide the name of the individual or organization assisting you and one soon realizes the post conviction relief assistance game is Rigged. Why in the hell would they demand that info upfront? To learn if your claim is DNA and / or Death Row related and whether or not you have lawyers, senators or a president in your corner.

As a former Applicant fooled into seeking the state's most highest form of a non-apology (Full Pardon - for / based on innocence) I learned the hard way that it's nothing more than a goddamn joke.

Others that have experienced the joke firsthand will recall the Clemency Section staff asking the Applicant to choose which one they wish to apply for. If you tell them that you are innocent and have 100% proof in the form of: a police incident report, certified case files & a color booking photo, they will tell you that they will put you in for both types. If you fail to get this in writing (and you will because they won't) you will learn that they didn't. When you receive the Denied letter in about 4 - 6 months in response to the Regular Full Pardon, don't expect to receive anything related to the Full Pardon - based on / for innocence (and you won't, all based on the impossible Rules & Requirements) because it was never applied for on your behalf despite your role. When you call them asking about it, they will tell you they never said it and hang up on your ass. Basically wasted your time by having you seek Letters of Recommendation from those that framed you.

1. Regular Pardon. Where guilt & innocence are not a major factor, and based more on the grounds of seeking to have rights restored. And it doesn't matter if you convicted yourself based on legal advice to avoid or stop a jury trial in progress in order to plea bargain simply for being on probation at time of arrest on new unrelated charges.

2. Full Pardon - for / based on innocence. Where innocence is claimed and backed up with documented proof of: police, prosecutorial, defense & judicial misconduct in black & white showing a Team Effort resulted in a false arrest being allowed to morph into a falsified conviction.
This magic show is further compounded when it all hinges on one being Required to purchase the information and obtain a Fingerprint card from a Sheriff's Office at $15 bucks a card and $1.00 per page adds up fast. Essentially, making the process of selling information to Applicants mandatory in a useless endeavor. And, it should be mentioned that seeking and obtaining the unanimous decisions of the original three trial officials (Letters of Recommendations) just isn't going to happen. Why would they respond when they don't have to, much-less, agree in writing that they and / or their predecessors conspired to: arrest, prosecute and imprison those known to be 100% innocent prior to the very first Ready for Trial notice being filed. Therein lies the rub and proof of a joke all rolled up in a Pardon Application 'Package'.


Thomas R. Griffith said...

*Grits, while the media and others ignored what they where told to ignore, I personally asked both Perry II & Davis to consider revealing their plans in a live debate and when ever possible regarding the future of Pardon(s).

Including but not limited to considering: *re-formatting the Application process, *removing the ridiculous and impossible Requirements to seek & obtain Letters of Recommendation from the three original trial officials and *publishing full names of -Applicants, Arresting Officers, Assigned Detectives & their Supervisors, Prosecution Teams, Defense Teams, Presiding Judges and the individual Board member's decision regardless of being Denied or Approved on the Governor's Website. Asking them both to at least consider replacing the Full Pardon - for / based on innocence with a Regular Full Pardon accompanied with an official framed State Apology Letter, handwritten and signed by the original three trial officials.

Davis had staff reply that she can't answer questions at this time and solicited me for donations for months. Abbott simply ignored. Anyone that gets a straight answer is asked to revisit this GFB posting and share.

Thanks again.