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February 11, 2008

Editorial on presidential pardon practices

This editorial in today's San Francisco Chronicle, titled "Bush fumbles on pardons," keeps the spotlight on the recent ugly news from the US Pardon Attorney's Office.  Here are snippets:

President Bush always has had a reputation for being tight in his exercise of the presidential pardon.  Oddly, the pardon is the one area in which his power is absolute — a president essentially can pardon or commute the sentence of any felon for any reason — yet this is the rare executive power Bush has chosen to underutilize.  So much for his compassionate conservatism.

Last Monday, a New York Times opinion piece written by George Lardner, an associate at the Center for the Study of the Presidency, reported that Roger Adams, the Department of Justice Pardon Attorney under President Clinton and Bush, had been transferred to a new DOJ position.  The transfer followed a December 2007 Inspector General's audit that found that Adams had acted improperly when he described a drug convict seeking a pardon as "about as honest as you could expect from a Nigerian."

It remains unclear whether Adams is a major factor behind the meager number of pardons issued by Bush, who has issued a stingy 142 pardons and — even stingier — a mere five sentence commutations since assuming office in 2001.  Ultimately, the responsibility lies with a president who has shown no interest in freeing offenders convicted of often draconian federal mandatory-minimum sentences — unless the offender is the convicted lying and justice-obstructing former White House aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

It's true that Bill Clinton tarnished the pardon process by issuing 140 last-minute pardons without proper review — to such unworthies as billionaire fugitive Marc Rich, who was hiding in Switzerland following a 51-count, 1983 indictment for tax evasion, racketeering and illegal trading.  Bush has erred in freeing few prisoners despite the record number of felons in federal prison....

In his last year in office, George W. Bush has an opportunity to show Americans outside his narrow voter base that he believes his rhetoric and wants to help all American families....  [Hundreds of] Americans are serving excessive sentences for low-level crimes.  The mercy that freed Libby is beyond their reach, and that is wrong.

Some recent related posts:

UPDATE:  Writing here at his blog Pardon Power, P.S. Ruckman justifiably and forcefully criticizes this Chronicle editorial for not criticizing the Clinton Administration more for its poor pardon record.  Here are excerpts:

Marc Rich?  Are you kidding me?  You are writing an editorial on the pardon power, non-violent drug offenders and the Clinton administration and you mention Marc Rich?  Why not mention that fact that Clinton — like Bush — also "freed few prisoners despite the record number of felons in federal prison" (see this CJCJ article on Clinton's "prison legacy") and — even worse — pardoned his own half-brother (Roger Clinton), who was convicted on drug related charges?!...

[W]hat is worse?  Bill Clinton publicly asserting these supposed beliefs about the severity of federal sentencing and then doing nothing about it?  Or, President Bush not doing as much as the Chronicle would have him do?... Shame on Mr. Clinton.  Shame on Mr. Clinton's brother. Shame on Hillary Clinton's brother.  Thank goodness Mrs. Clinton was completely unaware of everything all the while!

Meanwhile, just forget about Marc Rich, Chronicle.  He was nothing!

February 11, 2008 at 08:53 PM | Permalink

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Setting Aside Criminal Convictions in Canada: A Successful Approach to Offender Reintegration
Rick Ruddell, L Thomas Winfree Jr. The Prison Journal. Philadelphia: Dec 2006. Vol. 86, Iss. 4; pg. 452
Abstract (Summary)

Expunging a criminal conviction in the United States is a rare event and often limited to persons who committed offenses as juveniles or adult misdemeanants. Criminal convictions in Canada, however, are routinely set aside through pardons after offenders have demonstrated a period of crime-free behavior. Sealing an offender's criminal record, the practice in Canada, is a significant step in his or her reentry into society and official acknowledgment of society's forgiveness. This exploratory study of pardons in Canada has two clear findings: First, despite the relatively easy process, few individuals with criminal records make application for pardons. Second, of those who do apply, few applications are ever denied, and a very small percentage of successful applicants reoffend. Although setting aside criminal convictions seems inconsistent with the increasing use of collateral consequences for U.S. offenders, taking this approach might contribute to increased public safety in the long term by easing offender reintegration.

Posted by: George | Feb 12, 2008 12:13:36 AM

While I am all for keeping the focus on the evident chaos in the OPA, I have to smirk at the Chronicle's goofy white-washing of the Clinton administration and its distraction with Marc Rich (of all people). Clinton saw all of the same increases in the prison population (the CJCJ called him "the incarceration president") and non-violent drug offenses and did nothing about it - except express a little sympathy in Rolling Stone magazine and get a lot of hopes up. True, he did pardon his own brother (a drug offender) and Carlos Vignali (a drug kingpin who really knew who to give money to), but he did little else that I am aware of. So, I am doing my best to locate some moral outrage in the Chronicle during those years. So far, I have zip.

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Feb 12, 2008 12:33:53 AM

Yup, egregious prosecution and incarceration have a bi-partisan aspect. This is a cultural trend that crosses party lines.

Posted by: beth curtis | Feb 12, 2008 1:33:03 AM

"Expunging a criminal conviction in the United States is a rare event...."

Not really. See California Penal Code section 1203.4.

For people who see everything through a political lens, which includes a great many journalists, Marc Rich is especially significant because of the substantial possibility that his pardon was effectively purchased with campaign contributions.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Feb 12, 2008 11:24:19 AM

It isn't that simple and not at all equal to what the study suggests happens in Canada:

What is Criminal Record Expungement?


The person:

(1) Cannot have his or her record sealed nor make it unavailable to the public; (2) May have a prior conviction pleaded and proved if he or she subsequently is prosecuted for another crime, including in a subsequent "Three Strikes" prosecution; (3) May not possess or own or have under his or her custody or control any firearm; (4) Must disclose the conviction in response to any direct question in a questionnaire or application for public office, for licensure by any state or local agency, or for contracting with the California State Lottery; (5) May be subject to:

(a) Disbarment;
(b) Revocation of business and professional licenses;
(c) Suspension of a medical license by the Board of Medical Examiners;
(d) Suspension of a teaching credential by the State Board of Education;
(e) Registration requirements;
(f) Deportation; and
(g) Revocation, suspension, or limitation on the use of the person's driver's license after two or more Vehicle Code convictions.

Like the study mentioned: collateral consequences.

Posted by: George | Feb 12, 2008 4:08:31 PM

I didn't claim it was simple, nor did I claim it was a complete obliteration of the record. Even so, the right to have a verdict or plea set aside and the charges dismissed upon the completion of probation is a significant, and generous, provision.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Feb 12, 2008 4:31:54 PM

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Posted by: immigration | Oct 18, 2009 11:37:43 AM

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Posted by: Samanta SHilly | Dec 22, 2009 4:57:07 PM

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