« Helping the federal judiciary (but not private lawyers) with crack retroactivity | Main | What's just right in Kansas... »

February 5, 2008

Will the new US Pardon Attorney "scandal" garner any serious attention?

As I had predicted and feared, buzz about Super Tuesday has totally eclipsed the new story suggesting scandalous behavious by the now-resigned former US Pardon Attorney Roger Adams.  Fortunately, FAMM is unlikely to let this story go away without a bit more attention, as evidenced by this new FAMM press release.  Here are excerpts:

Today, FAMM calls on Congress to immediately investigate the breakdown at the Office of the Pardon Attorney and ask Attorney General Michael Mukasey how he intends to fix it.... [George] Lardner’s piece [in the New York Times] was triggered by a report produced at the end of a seven-month investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general regarding alleged mismanagement.  Lardner’s piece described the pardon office as being in complete disarray.  According to the pardon attorney’s official reports, there is a backlog of 2,501 clemency petitions still “pending” in the bureaucratic mill as of January 1, 2008.

This is a tragedy because many prisoners seeking clemency are serving truly excessive sentences that benefit no one.  For example:

  • Barbara Scrivner has served over 12 years of a 30-year sentence. She played a minor, addiction-driven role in her husband’s methamphetamine ring. In prison, she has beaten her drug addiction, is earning a bachelor’s degree from a Christian college, and counsels young people on the dangers of drug abuse. Meanwhile, her own teenage daughter is growing up without a mother.
  • Marty Sax is a decorated Vietnam veteran and first-time, nonviolent offender. He has served almost 15 years of a 20-year sentence for his part in a marijuana conspiracy. He has been a model prisoner. Even the judge who sentenced him, the FBI agent, and an attorney who helped prosecute Marty agree that he has served too much time.

“All Americans—even those in prison—are entitled to a government that takes them seriously and responds to their needs,” says [FAMM's Molly] Gill. “The Office of the Pardon Attorney is not doing this, and all of us should be asking why.”

Not suprisingly, P.S. Ruckman at his blog Pardon Power has a distinct take on the Lardiner piece, which concludes with these astute insights:

[T]here has never been a single reason in the world for anyone anywhere to think George W. Bush would be anything but extremely stingy with pardons.  His administration came on the heels of a first-class clemency controversy (Clinton).  Bush is a Republican and a former governor. As a governor, he set records for stinginess with pardons and knew what it was like to experience sharp criticism for use of the clemency power....

Bush may or may not grant a "big bunch" of pardons before he leaves. But, if he does, he certainly wouldn't be the first President to do so. That would be George Washington.  And, if he (Bush) does grant a few, just how many would constitute a "bunch" will be entirely debatable.  The only thing that seems clear to me is that Bush is in something like a no-win situation with his critics.  And the expectations and calls for reform of the clemency process have been much greater during his administration than they ever were during the administration of Bill Clinton.  In my mind, that says something in and of itself.

February 5, 2008 at 11:51 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e200e5502b31bc8834

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Will the new US Pardon Attorney "scandal" garner any serious attention?:

Comments

At the end of the day, the pardon power is there to deal with cases like these, and judging from the blurbs, these cases need to be dealt with. (A caveat--a meth ring is a bad bad thing, and 12 years may not be enough, depending on how widespread the ring was.) And it's not just individual kindness either. Mr. Sax and Ms. Scrivner cost money to keep incarcerated. In addition, if they would lead productive lives on the outside, they would be contributing to society. Prison beds are a scarce resource. They need to be used wisely. From first glances, there are more worthy candidates for the beds inhabited by Mr. Sax and Ms. Scrivner.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 5, 2008 12:24:16 PM

Federalist’s comment seems like liberal namby-pambyism. Can’t do the time. Don’t do the crime.

Criminals will read his comments and want to commit more crimes knowing that they will be pardoned.

Finally, while we can always build more prisons (to put the 35% of Americans that are very bad in jail) prison beds are not scarce. There are plenty of them. Why? If we run out of prison space we can simply cram more people into existing space. Most jurisdictions have no problem raising taxes (or issuing bonds) to build more prisons.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 5, 2008 1:22:16 PM

"...judging from the blurbs..."

I would not make a judgment about these cases based on blurbs from FAMM. Many, many times, I have heard descriptions of cases from advocacy groups that make it sound like a person was harshly treated, but when the full facts are known it turns out the sentence was fully deserved.

Maybe these sentences are "truly excessive" and maybe they aren't. I certainly wouldn't take FAMM's word for it.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Feb 5, 2008 1:40:32 PM

Totally agree, Kent.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 5, 2008 2:14:08 PM

Can a sentence ever be truly excessive when the health of our children are involved?

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 5, 2008 2:44:09 PM

Criminals will read his comments and want to commit more crimes knowing that they will be pardoned....Most jurisdictions have no problem raising taxes (or issuing bonds) to build more prisons.

Are you out of your mind??? If you seriously believe either wild statement you make, you have not learned a thing in all of your years exposure to the law. It's fun to go to the courthouse and count the number of attorneys that have had their soul sucked out of them. I bet people can spot you from a mile away. You sound jaded. Perhaps it time for a career change.

Oh yes, won't somebody think of the children? Here's a thought: raise your own damn kids.

...we can always build more prisons (to put the 35% of Americans that are very bad in jail. You? Jaded? Emotionally dead inside? Nawwwww.

Posted by: babalu | Feb 5, 2008 3:30:44 PM

Criminals will read his comments and want to commit more crimes knowing that they will be pardoned....Most jurisdictions have no problem raising taxes (or issuing bonds) to build more prisons.

Are you out of your mind??? If you seriously believe either wild statement you make, you have not learned a thing in all of your years exposure to the law. It's fun to go to the courthouse and count the number of attorneys that have had their soul sucked out of them. I bet people can spot you from a mile away. You sound jaded. Perhaps it time for a career change.

Oh yes, won't somebody think of the children? Here's a thought: raise your own damn kids.

...we can always build more prisons (to put the 35% of Americans that are very bad in jail. You? Jaded? Emotionally dead inside? Nawwwww.

Posted by: babalu | Feb 5, 2008 3:31:27 PM

Whoa. Didn't mean to double post. And after reading it again I have to apologize to you s.cotus for the personal attack. It is not like me to post like that but the outrageousness of your statements was disturbing.

Posted by: babalu | Feb 5, 2008 8:38:50 PM

FINALLY, someone calling FAMM, Sentencing Project and other ADVOCACY groups to task. They have an agenda as strong as any other advocacy group! In the case of FAMM they parade these "innocent" victims of harsh mandatory sentences who, in reality, have vast knowledge of drug rings. Though they aren't "leaders" of the conspiracy, they know enough that they could have lessened their sentences through substantial assistance by telling what they know. Just ask authorities in such cities as Newark and Baltimore the harm done by the "Don't Snitch" campaigns! As someone so eloquently put it, "if you can't do the time, don't do the crime." I am tired of hearing about these "poor" women "who have no choice" when their significant others are dealing kilos of drugs! It's the 21st Century, not the 18th Century, women are able to walk away just as easily as men. I will get off my soapbox, but it made my day for someone else to point out that you can't totally believe the propaganda put out by FAMM and other groups, if you look closer at those stories, they aren't as sympathetic as is portrayed!

Posted by: | Feb 6, 2008 7:05:12 AM

Fair enough. I thought I caveated my post enough, but apparently I didn't. The vet, if the blurb is to be believed, has served 15 of 20 years.

I guess the real thrust of the post was that we should take hard looks at people who have served significant portions of long prison sentences with the idea that some of the sentences may not be necessary any more. I am a strong supporter of draconian sentences, and I think that if you are going to have draconian sentences and subject a lot of people to them, the other side of that is that you have to give some consideration to saying, in a few cases, "ok, this person has had enough".

Posted by: federalist | Feb 6, 2008 12:47:36 PM

7:05:12 AM, Of course “FAMM, Sentencing Project and other ADVOCACY groups to task. They have an agenda as strong as any other advocacy group!” That is like saying “Circles are as round as circles.” They ARE advocacy groups. In other news, water was found in rivers.

The rest of your posts bounces around a bit, but let me see if I understand what you are trying to say.

First of all, just having a “vast knowledge” of a drug ring doesn’t make someone more or less of a criminal. In fact, some cops have “vast knowledge” of drug rings.

Second of all, while the law provides some relief for people that cooperate, the incentives to cooperate are mixed. While some prosecutors behave professionally with cooperators, others abuse them. Some try and trick them. Some expose the cooperators to risks. It varies.

Third, the ability to “lessen” a sentence by cooperating varies between the individual prosecutor and the underlying offense charged.

Fourth, Asking “authorities” (last time I looked, in the US, the voters were the authority) about the “don’t snitch” campaign is a meaningless exercise. Police will always look for someone to blame. But, on a policy level there are reasons not to snitch. 1) As I said above, some jurisdictions simply treat “snitches” terribly; 2) many people (even law enforcement) will argue that reliance on “snitches” is a bad idea since their statements are motivated by something other than just a desire to help.

Fifth, like you I don’t really care about the poor people. If these women wanted to avoid jail time they wouldn’t date drug dealers. They would date white collar criminals. And by “white collar criminals” I mean the “sophisticated kind” not the “check fraud” kind.

Sixth, I am sorry that you are “tired” of hearing about people of a certain class. In the law and in legal debates, you are bound to hear people make arguments you don’t like. If you can’t handle this, then maybe you should become a fashion model.

Seventh, While obviously any “advocacy” group will construe facts in their favor, you do no better. If you were seriously about rebutting their arguments you would, for example, post transcripts (not newspaper stories) of sentencing hearings, so show how something that appears unjust really is just. But, I agree, most poor people are not sympathetic, anyway.

Federalist, Every day that someone is on the street, is a day that our children are at risk. Moreover, I don’t see why being a “veteran” should give these people at get out of jail free card. As you know, gangs will recruit veterans to do their dirty work, knowing that the veterans will get lower sentences or pardons.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 6, 2008 1:37:24 PM

My dad was arrested and convicted on a first degree murder charge in 1992. There was no definitive proof he was involved, and clear evidence of another suspect, that was never investigated. He was sentenced to life without parole, and has served nearly 17 years, and claims complete innocence. We have seen people who admittedly killed women, children, rapist, drug dealers, the worst of society; walk away after 5 to 10 years. Ridiculous. Sometimes sentences are too much, and people deserve pardons. Not often, but some cases. Thanks for letting me get my opinion out there.

Posted by: Jimmy Nance | Jul 23, 2008 2:03:09 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB