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March 2, 2013

Obama grants 17 pardons ... could this signal a new (second term) approach to clemency?

As reported in this Washington Post article, headlined "Obama grants pardons to 17 people for nonviolent offenses," President Obama late yesterday rediscovered his clemency powers. Here are the basics:

President Obama pardoned 17 people for nonviolent offenses Friday, a rare move that nearly doubled the number of pardons he has granted since taking office just over four years ago.  The individuals came from 13 states and were sentenced years if not decades ago for such minor federal offenses as falsely altering a U.S. money order, possessing an unregistered firearm, embezzling bank funds and acquiring food stamps without authorization....

The pardons, the first of Obama’s second term, are significant because this president so infrequently grants clemency.

Before Friday, Obama had granted 22 pardons; he had received petitions from 1,333 individuals, according to the data maintained by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney. He granted his first batch of pardons, totaling nine, in December 2010, and granted eight in May 2011 and five in November 2011.

By contrast, former president George W. Bush received 2,498 petitions and granted 189 pardons, while former president Bill Clinton received 2,001 petitions and granted 396 pardons, according to the data.

Dafna Linzer of ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news organization, reported last year that Obama has granted clemency at a lower rate than any modern president. Among the hundreds of people who have been denied pardons by Obama, Linzer reported, are a former brothel manager who helped the FBI bust a national prostitution ring and a retired sheriff who inadvertently helped a money launderer buy land.

Obama has come under criticism for not using more frequently his constitutional powers to pardon people for federal crimes. Some academics argue that the president could have more impact by pardoning younger people with more recent crimes.

“He’s not only being extremely stingy, but he’s giving pardons to people who arguably need them the very least,” said P.S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist at Rock Valley College in Illinois who blogs about presidential pardons. “The people who need pardons are people in their 30s and 40s and 50s who are trying to get jobs and raise families.”

Jeffrey Crouch, a political science professor at American University, said the pardons announced Friday mirror those Obama granted in his first term. “The president’s pattern has been pretty much to go for the safe route — look for older offenses, nonviolent offenses — and using the pardon power in some cases just enough to not be criticized for not using it at all,” said Crouch, author of “The Presidential Pardon Power.”

The White House on Friday offered no information about why Obama selected these 17 individuals for pardons other than that he believes they will lead productive lives. “As he has in past years, the president granted these individuals clemency because they have demonstrated genuine remorse and a strong commitment to being law-abiding, productive citizens and active members of their communities,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said.

Of course, the Pardon Power the place to go for all the pardon news and analysis via P.S. Ruckman, and this new post provides some more context for these latest grants:

Today, President Obama granted 17 pardons, the largest batch of pardons granted in his presidency.  This brings his pardon total to 39 (22 in the first term and 17 in the second). He has also granted a single commutation of sentence (first term).  According to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, Obama has received at least 8,000 clemency applications to date.

Recall, President Obama waited a whopping 682 days before  granting the first pardon of his first term -- the longest delay for any president in American history, save George W. Bush. For Obama's second term, the wait has been a mere 39 days!

Regular readers know I have been very critical of President Obama for his failure to make any significant use of his clemency powers. Consequently, I am pleased to see any Presidential action on this front. But, as the title of this post suggests, what really matters is whether these initial pardons might be a sign of a lot more clemency action to come in months and years ahead.

Some recent and a few older posts concerning federal clemency practices:

March 2, 2013 at 09:31 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Some additional info: By my calculations, the average distance between sentencing and clemency for this round of recipients is 27.3 years. For all 40 of Obama's clemency recipients (39 pardons and 1 commutation of sentence), the figure is 25.6 years.

Posted by: PSRuckman | Mar 2, 2013 10:17:08 AM

Hopefully. Election concerns factor in here -- see how many pardons occur at the end of terms.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 2, 2013 12:39:54 PM

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