Saturday, February 09, 2013

Highlighting the challenges of pardons and politics for state governors

PardonModels_infographic_finalThe folks at Stateline have this terrific new article about state pardon laws and practices titled "Governors Balance Pardons With Politics." Here are excerpts:

This week, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe announced his intent to pardon Herman T. Warren, who had been convicted of possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia in 2003.  Warren had completed his sentence, two years on probation, and paid all the fines associated with his conviction.

Beebe’s pardon, which will be issued following a 30-day public comment period, means that Warren will be eligible to serve on a jury and apply to own a gun, and if anyone ever questions Warren about his conviction, he can show the pardon as proof that he’s turned his life around. It’s almost as if Warren’s conviction never happened — although his record won’t be formally cleared, he will no longer experience any official consequences of his conviction.

Pardons like this one are relatively common in Arkansas. (See Stateline infographic [reprinted here].)  In his six-year tenure, Governor Beebe has pardoned 529 individuals, usually issuing a few pardons each month to minor drug offenders convicted more than 10 years ago. The process is a routine part of Beebe’s job, and he’s “constantly reviewing clemency requests,” says spokesman Matt DeCample.

But Beebe’s pardoning practices are increasingly rare among governors, who fear political backlash if a pardoned criminal should reoffend.  Clemency decisions have proved costly for recent Republican presidential candidates, including Beebe’s Arkansas predecessor, Mike Huckabee, who faced tough questions after Maurice Clemmons, a man whose sentence Huckabee commuted, was linked to the murder of four police officers near Tacoma, Washington.

Many current governors in the national spotlight, such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, and Massachusetts’ Deval Patrick, have granted no pardons at all. And governors don’t have an example of pardon leniency to follow in the White House either — President Obama granted just 22 pardons in his first term, the lowest number of any president since George Washington.  These days, many governors are more inclined to pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving or a pig for a bacon festival, than to grant restored rights to a convicted criminal.

The reasons are not always personal. In six states, pardons are entirely the province of an independent commission.  In 20 states, the governor can make the decision, but must consult with a board of one kind or another.  In Rhode Island, the Senate must approve every pardon application before it can be granted. Needless to say, very few offenders receive pardons in Rhode Island.

But in much of the country, the power to pardon remains a gubernatorial prerogative, one of the broadest executive powers afforded to governors in a state’s constitution.  And the pardon decision rarely follows any ideological trend; it’s largely subject to the individual preferences of the executive and the customs of the state, says Margaret Colgate Love, who served as U.S. pardon attorney from 1990 to 1997.

By and large, the reason for the drop in the number of governors’ pardons since the 1960s is political, argues P.S. Ruckman, a professor of political science at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois, and author of the blog, Pardon Power.  “Some governors think, ‘why should I do this? It won’t benefit me politically and it might hurt me.’  There’s some very crass political calculating going on,” says Ruckman, “and people suffer because of it.”

“Particularly when a governor does it alone,” says Love, “pardoning is a very personal thing, and the reasons for doing it can vary.  To me, it is a measure of character. In some states, like Arkansas and Nebraska and Connecticut, there is a culture and expectation that there will be pardons. But there is always a political element because popular opinion is the main brake on the power.”...

Criminal convictions come with a range of collateral consequences, including the loss of voting rights, right to serve on a jury, hold public office or obtain a gun permit.  A pardon from the governor can restore those rights, and a handful of governors, including Democrats Beebe in Arkansas and Tim Kaine in Virginia and Republican Robert Ehrlich in Maryland, have restored the rights of hundreds of former offenders.

Both pardons and commutations are often made at the end of a governor’s tenure when he is not facing reelection and the political consequences for a pardoning decision won’t be as severe.  “You really see what they believe when they’re a lame duck,” says Rachel Barkow, a law professor at New York University.

It’s these end-of-term grants that are often the most infamous.  For example, just hours before Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger left the California governor’s mansion in 2011, he shortened the sentence of a political ally’s son from 16 to seven years, which angered the victim’s family and the public.  The victim’s family sued Schwarzenegger for not notifying them in advance of the commutation, but a court found that while the last-minute commutation was “repugnant,” it was not illegal.

One year later, as Haley Barbour was leaving office as Mississippi’s governor, Barbour pardoned nearly 200 offenders, including five convicted murderers, as a display of Christian principles of forgiveness, he said at the time.  The last-minute pardons set off a national uproar and the state’s attorney general argued that Barbour had violated the state constitution by not publishing a notice of his intent to pardon the offenders.  The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Barbour’s right to pardon the offenders; however, incoming Governor Phil Bryant vowed to severely limit the number of pardons he would grant.

While the overall trends show pardons on the downturn, there are some current exceptions.  Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has pardoned over 800 people since taking office in 2009, clearing a backlog of more than 2,500 pardon applications left untouched by previous Governor Rod Blagojevich.  California Governor Jerry Brown, who has noted his commitment to rehabilitation, has issued 149 pardons since taking office in 2011, reversing a nearly 20-year trend of minimal pardons from California governors.

February 9, 2013 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New ACS issue brief on the the federal pardon process

BookletI just learned that the American Constitution Society (ACS) is putting out series of new Issue Briefs, under the heading “Toward a More Perfect Union: A Progressive Blueprint for the Second Term,” which seeks to offer ideas and proposals "to advance a vision consistent with the progressive themes President Obama raised in his second Inaugural Address."  And I am pleased to see that one of the initial publications in this series is authored by Margaret Colgate Love and is available at this link.  Here is how ACS describes this Issue Brief at this page:

ACS is pleased to distribute “Reinvigorating the Federal Pardon Process: What the President Can Learn from the States” by Margaret Colgate Love of the Law Office of Margaret Love and formerly of the Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney.

The presidential exercise of the pardon power, or lack thereof, has been the subject of national conversation in recent months.   As Margaret Colgate Love describes in her Issue Brief, this much discussed, but not often used, executive power and process "has lost its vigor, its integrity, and its sense of purpose.”  The latest assessments of the federal pardon process suggest a process plagued by racial and class disparities, and in at least one case, misconduct on the part of the Pardon Attorney.

Rather than "live with a dysfunctional pardon process," Love identifies state pardon models that the President and federal justice system could adopt.  Highlighted for their “authority,” “accountability,” and "transparency," Love explains that these models are necessary responses to the "hard to understand and even harder to penetrate, operating in secret and accountable to no one" Justice Department Pardon Office.   According to Love, “there is not a single state whose pardon process is as poorly conceived and managed as the federal government’s.” The process must “evolve with the changing needs of the presidency and of the justice system,” Love concludes.

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

January 24, 2013 in Clemency and Pardons, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, January 21, 2013

Will Prez Obama's clemency record ever match his inaugural rhetoric?

Blogging four years ago during the last day in which a US President took the oath of office, I commented in this post about the tendency of chief executives to invoke great rhetoric and wax poetic about freedom and liberty in America despite our country's recent record of locking up a record number of persons in jails and prisons.  I also asked in this follow-up post on the same day whether it was too early to start demanding President Obama use his clemency power to live up to our country's traditional commitment to personal freedom and liberty. 

Sadly, as P.S. Ruckman effectively documents and highlights in this new post, President Obama's first-term record on the clemency front is at once disgraceful and disgusting:

Barack Obama's first term has come to an end and we are now ready to report that his four-years as president represent the least merciful term for any modern president (Democrat or Republican) and, quite possibly, the least merciful in the entire history of the United States (see footnote below).

This is, of course, an incredible distinction for a president who repeatedly notes that America is a place where people get "second chances," from a president who complained bitterly about overly-harsh sentences given to criminal defendants simply because they were African-American, and from a president who promised us "hope and change."

Not surprisingly, this ugly clemency record did not prevent President Obama from kicking off his secord term with more empty inaugural rhetoric about freedom and liberty, and I found these particular phrases from Obama's speech today especially notable:

We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few....

[O]ur interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.   And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice — not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

As all students of mass incarceration know too well, a large number of persons locked in the cages of our nation's jails and prisons are "the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice"; and the fact that they have committed crimes does not mean they do not "long for freedom," nor does it mean our nation and its peoples should no longer be compelled by our conscience to be a "source of hope" to them.  Indeed, as MLK said decades ago and as Prez Obama reminds us today, each and everyone one of us has "our individual freedom .. inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth" including those souls who have violated our criminal laws and now have their liberty curtailed.

Given his track record to date, I do not expect much change from President Obama on this important (but not politically popular) front.   But I will continue to have hope, not so much because I have much faith in this President's merciful heart, but because I do have great faith in this nation's merciful soul.

January 21, 2013 in Clemency and Pardons, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 10, 2013

"Why Has Obama Pardoned So Few Prisoners?"

The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Sasha Abramsky which will appear in the January 28, 2013 issue of The Nation. (Hat tip: How Appealing.) The piece gives particular attention to the sad case of my former habeas client Weldon Angelos, and here are excerpts:

Six and a half years ago, I drove out to Lompoc federal penitentiary in the hills outside Santa Barbara to interview Weldon Angelos, a young man who had received the improbable sentence of fifty-five years without parole for selling marijuana, ostensibly while carrying a small pistol in an ankle holster.

A rap artist from Salt Lake City and friend to Napoleon and other eminences of the hip-hop world, Angelos had been ensnared by an informant in a series of undercover marijuana purchases that reeked of entrapment. What might have been a two-bit state pot case became a high-stakes federal case. When Angelos — who denied carrying a gun when dealing — refused to enter a guilty plea, the feds played hardball, piling more indictments onto the original charge.  In December 2003, more than a year after he had been arrested, Angelos was found guilty on several counts, though he was acquitted on others.  Because of mandatory minimum statutes linked to the firearms charges, the presiding judge — a George W. Bush appointee named Paul Cassell — was left with no discretion at sentencing. After asking the prosecuting and defense attorneys to advise him on the constitutionality of the sentence, a distraught Cassell handed down the fifty-five-year term, a punishment he called “unjust, cruel and even irrational.”  In his opinion, he urged then-President Bush to pardon the young father of three and right a clear judicial wrong.

Angelos was 23 when he was arrested.  He was in his mid-20s when I met him. It was such an obvious injustice that I thought the odds were pretty good he’d be out of prison by the time he was 30.  Surely one or another president would pardon him or commute his sentence, either reducing it or allowing him to be released on time served.

But today Angelos is in his early 30s and fast approaching his ten-year anniversary behind bars. Bush didn’t pardon him.  Neither has President Obama — despite earlier pleas on Angelos’s behalf from several ex-governors, dozens of ex–federal prosecutors and judges, and four US attorneys general; despite growing concerns over mandatory minimum sentences from members of Congress; despite the pledge by onetime Salt Lake City mayor and civil rights lawyer Rocky Anderson to “do anything I can to remedy this unbelievable injustice”; despite The Washington Post and other leading publications urging clemency; despite the fact that, at least rhetorically, the Obama administration has moved away from the sensational, fearmongering tactics of the drug war, and that drug czar Gil Kerlikowske doesn’t even like to talk about a “war on drugs”; despite the fact that in late 2012 Obama said the feds had “bigger fish to fry” than prosecuting marijuana users in states moving toward legalization; despite the fact that one state after another has rolled back its most draconian mandatory minimum sentences for small-time drug users and dealers....

So why hasn’t Obama done the right thing? Could it be that Angelos has just gotten lost in the shuffle? Possibly — but if that’s the reason, there would be evidence that Obama has used his pardon and commutation powers wisely in other cases. Unfortunately, that’s not true....

A president who talks the talk about more sensible, nuanced drug policy, and whose oratory frequently invokes what is best in the American political imagination, has shown himself remarkably reluctant to use one of the most important of presidential prerogatives—the power to right judicial wrongs. “This president,” says Anderson, “has been unbelievably timid and disinclined to do justice in cases that scream out for commutation.  There’s not a lot of moral or political fortitude in play.”...

In the long run, when it comes to preventing future unjust sentences like the one given Angelos, Congress and state legislatures should be the ones to roll back the excesses of the drug war.  And there’s no doubt that Obama, a constitutional law scholar, understands how much more powerful legislation is than the willful, even capricious, pardon function of the president. (After all, Clinton was excoriated for what appeared to be pardons issued in exchange for campaign and other contributions.  And Bush was heavily criticized for commuting the prison term of his disgraced adviser Lewis Libby.)  But when there’s a massive miscarriage of justice — as has happened all too often during the forty years of the “war on drugs” — the president’s ability to pardon or commute sentences is vital.

How does one tell Weldon Angelos’s kids that their father will not only never walk them to school but that he will never walk their children to school?  That if he survives fifty-five years in prison, he might get out just in time to walk his great-grandchildren to school. It’s unconscionable that such a sentence should stand.  If Angelos and other drug war prisoners with absurd sentences remain in prison through Obama’s second term, it will be a stain on the president’s legacy.

January 10, 2013 in Clemency and Pardons, Drug Offense Sentencing, Examples of "over-punishment", Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

"Barack the Unmerciful: Obama's amazingly stingy clemency record"

The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Jacob Sollum over at Reason.com. Here are excerpts:

Will Barack Obama go down in history as our least merciful president? With less than two weeks to go in his first term, this reputedly progressive and enlightened man has a strong shot at winning that dubious distinction.

December, a traditional season for presidential clemency, has come and gone, and still Obama has granted just one commutation (which shortens a prisoner’s sentence) and 22 pardons (which clear people’s records, typically after they've completed their sentences). Barring a last-minute flurry of clemency actions, his first-term record looks weaker than those of all but a few previous presidents.

Which of Obama’s predecessors managed to make less use of the clemency power during their first terms? According to numbers compiled by P.S. Ruckman Jr., a professor of political science at Rock Valley College in Rockville, Illinois, just three: George Washington, who probably did not have many clemency petitions to address during the first few years of the nation’s existence; William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia a month after taking office; and James Garfield, who was shot four months into his presidency and died that September.

With the exception of Washington's first term, then, Obama so far has been stingier with pardons and commutations than any other president, especially when you take into account the growth of the federal penal system during the last century, the elimination of parole, the proliferation of mandatory minimums, and the concomitant increase in petitions. This is a remarkable development for a man who proclaims that "life is all about second chances" and who has repeatedly described our criminal justice system as excessively harsh....

The one significant way in which Obama followed through on this rhetoric after being elected was by supporting 2010 legislation that shrank the irrational sentencing gap between crack cocaine and cocaine powder (although there was not much political risk in doing so, since the bill passed Congress almost unanimously). But the Fair Sentencing Act did not apply retroactively, and Obama has used commutation to help just one of the thousands of crack offenders serving mandatory minimums that nearly everyone now admits are unjust.

More generally, Obama has granted clemency petitions at a lower rate than all of his recent predecessors. The odds of winning a pardon from Obama so far are 1 in 59, compared to 1 in 2 under Richard Nixon, 1 in 3 under Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, 1 in 5 under Ronald Reagan, 1 in 10 under George H.W. Bush, 1 in 5 under Bill Clinton, and 1 in 13 under George W. Bush, per Ruckman's calculations. The odds for commutation are even longer: 1 in 6,631 under Obama, compared to probabilities under the seven preceding presidents ranging from 1 in 15 (Nixon) to 1 in 779 (Bush II).

As Obama embarks upon a second term, he deserves credit for this amazing accomplishment: He has made Richard Nixon look like a softie.

January 9, 2013 in Clemency and Pardons, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Monday, January 07, 2013

New York Times editorial assails Prez Obama's considerable clemency failings

The New York Times on Sunday published this editorial, headlined "The Quality of Mercy, Strained," which justifiably criticized President Obama for his dismal record on clemency. Regular reader have often heard such complaints from me, but this Times editorial effectively laments the current state of affairs after 2012 came and went without any clemency activity. And the piece makes the sound recommendation that Prez Obama take the clemency screening process out of the Department of Justice. I am pleased to reprint the full editorial here, in part because I agree with just about every word of it:

Barack Obama has rarely exercised presidential clemency to grant pardons and restore the civil rights of convicted criminals, a power that Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and other presidents used with dedication to correct injustices in the legal system.

Mr. Obama has pardoned only 22 people, fewer than any president since the modern era of pardons began in 1900. He has granted a pardon for 1 out of every 50 applicants, compared with 1 out of 33 for George W. Bush, 1 of 8 for Bill Clinton and 1 of 3 for Ronald Reagan.

In part, this has been a reaction to Presidents Clinton and Bush, both of whom compromised the pardon power with cronyism.  But the basic problem may be that Mr. Obama allowed himself to be crippled by the pardon process itself.  That process is managed by the Justice Department, which receives applications for clemency and makes recommendations to the White House.

Presumably, the president is willing to use acts of clemency to right the wrongs of the sentencing and judicial systems.  Yet the same cannot be said of the Justice Department, which has a prosecutorial mind-set.  It has undermined the process with huge backlogs and delays, and sometimes views pardons as an affront to federal efforts to fight crime.

Over the years, too, the process appears to have been tainted by racial bias.  As ProPublica documented in an analysis of Bush administration pardons, whites benefited from pardons four times as often as members of minority groups, even though blacks alone made up 38 percent of the federal prison population.  That report prompted a continuing Justice Department review by its Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In addition, the department’s pardon office is run by a Bush-appointed lawyer, Ronald L. Rodgers, whose professional conduct has been excoriated by the Justice Department’s own inspector general and referred to the deputy attorney general for possible administrative action.  In 2008, in transmitting a proposed pardon to the White House, Mr. Rodgers misrepresented the views of both the United States attorney who made the recommendation and the judge who seconded it.  The prisoner was denied a pardon.

One simple and immediate way for the president to reinvigorate the pardons process is to choose a person of stature and energy — say, a federal judge — to steward his administration’s pardon duties.  At the same time, he can end the department’s conflict of interest by replacing the pardons office with a new bipartisan commission under the White House’s aegis, giving it ample resources and real independence.

There is much good to be done, for the sake of justice as well as mercy.  Many federal inmates are serving egregiously long prison terms under mandatory minimum sentencing schemes.  Mr. Obama could use the pardon power to grant clemency to some long-term prisoners, until Congress reforms those laws.  He could also use that power to spare some federal offenders who have completed their prison terms from the legal restrictions that have kept them from getting jobs, places to live, business licenses and the chance to vote.

And he could address the unfortunate consequences of the nation’s unfair drug sentencing laws.  As of November 2011, there were at least 5,000 federal prisoners serving sentences for crack cocaine who deserved consideration for reduced sentences after a major reform of federal drug laws in 2010.  Those prisoners were sentenced when the penalty for crimes involving crack was far more severe than for crimes involving powder cocaine; in 2010, Congress reduced that difference, but the older sentences remained unchanged.

In 2003, Justice Anthony Kennedy observed that the pardon power had been “drained of its moral force.”  The Constitution grants the president alone the power to grant “pardons for offenses against the United States.”  It is time for Mr. Obama to vigorously exercise this august and singular responsibility.

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

January 7, 2013 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Head of Pardons Office Withheld Facts From White House in Key Case"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article by Dafna Linzer of ProPublica reporting on a notable report emerging from within the Justice Department concerning a notable controversy over a notable clemency case. Here is how the piece starts:

The head of the Justice Department's pardons office failed to accurately convey key information to the Bush White House regarding a federal inmate's plea for early release, the department's inspector general concluded in a report released Tuesday.

In overseeing the case of Clarence Aaron, the report found that Pardon Attorney Ronald L. Rodgers engaged in "conduct that fell substantially short of the high standards expected of Department of Justice employees and the duty he owed the President of the United States."

In a measure of the seriousness of the evidence against Rodgers, Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz referred his findings to the deputy attorney general for "a determination as to whether administrative action is appropriate."

Rodgers's advice to the president, the inspector general concluded, "was colored by his concern ... that the White House might grant Aaron clemency presently and his desire that this not happen." The report includes excerpts of emails Rodgers sent to another Justice Department official expressing hope that Aaron's request be denied.

"The details that emerge from this report about the way the Justice Department handled my client's case shock me," said Aaron's attorney, Margaret Love. "Justice is long overdue for Clarence Aaron, and I hope the president will take immediate action to free him."

The pardons office has come under increased scrutiny in the last year since ProPublica and The Washington Post began reporting on race disparity in the selection of pardon recipients and the handling of the Aaron case. ProPublica's study showed that white applicants have been nearly four times as likely as minorities to be pardoned. Aaron is African American....

Rodgers, a career civil servant and former military judge, took over the pardons office in 2008. Despite calls for his resignation, he has remained in office. Nearly all pardon recipients are preselected by Rodgers and he personally reviews each application from federal inmates seeking early release. Under his leadership, denial recommendations have soared while pardons have been rarely granted.

Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had full confidence in Rodgers. Hornbuckle declined to reiterate that support Tuesday. He said Holder's deputy, James Cole, was reviewing the inspector general's findings and that "further comment would not be appropriate." The Justice Department refused requests for interviews with Cole or Rodgers.

The White House relies almost exclusively on Rodgers in deciding whom the president will forgive or release from prison. Asked whether the president also has confidence in Rodgers's advice, the White House declined to comment.

Over at his Pardon Power blog, PS Ruckman has provided the full DOJ Inspector General report at this link and he provides highlights from the report in this post titled "SHOCK! O.I.G. Blasts U.S. Pardon Attorney."   The folks at FAMM also have this new press release in response to this report, which includes these passages:

FAMM President Julie Stewart today said she felt “maddened but validated” by a report confirming serious misconduct by the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) in its handling of the clemency request of federal prisoner Clarence Aaron, a first-time, nonviolent drug offender serving life without parole....

Says Stewart, "The report confirms what thousands of clemency denials imply: the Office of the Pardon Attorney has a 'just say no' attitude when it comes to clemency requests, no matter how deserving the prisoner or how unjust the sentence.  That kind of culture doesn’t serve the interests of justice, the president, or the public.  Prisoners grow, change, and deserve second chances.  But they’ll never get them unless the president reforms the pardon attorney’s office and ensures that everyone gets a fair shake."

December 18, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Monday, December 17, 2012

Following board's recommendation, Ohio Gov Kasich commutes yet another death sentence (avoiding any weighty execution concerns)

Moving swiftly and efficiently after receiving a (split) recommendation from the Ohio Adult Parole Authority late Friday (details here), today Ohio Gov John Kasich commutted the death sentence of convicted murderer Ronald Post to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This official statement released by the Gov briefly explains why:

"Regardless of the heinous nature of their crime, a criminal defendant is entitled to an effective defense, especially in a death penalty case.  The Parole Board’s conclusion is that Ronald Post did not come close to receiving such a defense.  After my own careful review, I agree.  Therefore I am ordering that he spend the rest of his life in prison with no possibility of ever getting out.  This decision should not be viewed by anyone as diminishing this awful crime or the pain it has caused."

Given Gov Kasich's record in using his clemency authority, I am not too surprised by the substance of this decision (though I am a bit surprised it came down so quickly).  This local story about the decision reports that, unsurprisingly, "attorneys for Post said they were 'very pleased' by Kasich's decision."  And this AP story highlights that, via this decision, Ohio has now "sidestepped a decision about whether a condemned inmate was too fat to be humanely executed."

By my count, Kasich has now granted commutations to four death row defendants on their way to execution in less than two years as Ohio's Governor.  Disregarding a few notable grants of mass clemency by a few governors in a few states to clear death row, Gov Kasich appears to be on pace to set a modern record for the most individual capital clemency grants in a single term by a single Governor (based on modern capital clemency data reported here via the Death Penalty Information Center).

Related posts about Post's case and Gov Kasich's clemency record:

December 17, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Split Ohio Parole Board recommends capital clemency based on attorneys failings

As reported in this local AP article, which is headlined "Divided parole board backs clemency in killing: Past lawyers’ errors cited; Kasich will decide on execution," the Ohio Adult Parole Authority issues a notable clemency recommendation to Ohio's Governor for the next condemned killer scheduled to executed next month.   Here are the basics:

Gov. John Kasich must decide in about a month whether to spare a condemned inmate who weighs 450 pounds, and whether the inmate’s health should be part of his decision. The state parole board recommended mercy for Ronald Post yesterday based on claims raising doubts about his legal representation, not because he says he’s so fat he can’t be humanely executed.

The board rejected arguments made by Post’s attorneys that he deserves mercy because of lingering doubts about his “legal and moral guilt” in a woman’s death, but it said it couldn’t ignore perceived missteps by his lawyers.

The board’s recommendation, by a vote of 5-3, goes to Kasich, who has the final say. Post is scheduled to die on Jan. 16 for killing Elyria motel clerk Helen Vantz in a 1983 robbery.

“Post took Vantz’s life, devastating the lives of her loved ones in the process,” the board said.  But it also said a majority of its members agreed that his sentence should be commuted to life in prison without chance of parole because of omissions, missed opportunities and questionable decisions made by his previous attorneys and because that legal representation didn’t meet expectations for a death-penalty case.

Post never raised his weight issue with the board but instead is arguing in federal court on Monday that he would suffer “a torturous and lingering death” as executioners tried to find a vein or use a backup method where lethal drugs are injected directly into muscle.

Kasich can consider anything he wants, regardless of court rulings or whether a claim — in this case Post’s weight — was made as part of the clemency petition, said Dan Kobil, a Capital University law professor and expert on clemency....

Post’s current attorneys said the parole board’s recommendation pleased them. “In the nearly 30 years since his case began, Ronald Post has too often been failed by the attorneys assigned to represent him, beginning at his trial,” public defenders Joe Wilhelm and Rachel Troutman said in a statement.

Vantz’s sons, William and Michael, have said they believe Post is guilty.  William Vantz characterized Post’s obesity claim as “another way for a coward to try and get out of what debt he owes to society.”... The dissenting parole-board members said it’s clear that Post killed Vantz and that questionable moves by his attorneys don’t outweigh the circumstances of the case.

Doubt about Post’s guilt lingers because of the involvement of two other men in the shooting, Post’s attorneys argue.  Post pleaded no contest to the crime on the advice of his attorney in expectation of a life sentence, they said.  Even after his plea, he told a psychologist “he was not a murderer,” the lawyers said.

The full clemency report released yesterday by the Ohio Adult Parole Authority is available at this link. The split nature of the board's ruling provides a ready justification for any type of decision coming from Gov. Kasich, who has already commuted three death sentences to LWOP during his two years as governor to date (while also having presided over eight executions).  Governor Kasich's track record suggests he takes capital clemency decision-making very seriously, and he will have a lot of factors to chew on in this particular case.  

With a focus only politics and practicalities, I probably would be inclined to urge the Governor to commute Post's sentence to LWOP sometime before the end of this month just to make this ugly capital case go away.  The issues concerning Post's weight and the execution process ensure that this case will get (too) much attention and be subject to much litigation in the weeks leading up to the mid-January execution date.  And, with a lingering set of innocence claims and now a recommendation of clemency based on lousy lawyering, it would be easy and reasonable to justify a commutation because of the questions surrounding the fairness and accuracy of the process which led Post to be sentenced to death.  And a communitation here would likely garner more praise from Gov. Kasich's usual critics than criticisms from his usual allies.

That all said, if one's vision of retributive capital justice necessarily ecliples these kinds of practical and political concerning, then a denial of capital clemency here become an easier decision.  Because I rarely have strong retributive instinct here (or elsewhere), I tend to see these issues in more pragmatic and procedural terms.  But I certainly can understand and respect how Gov. Kasich and others might have a much different perspective.

December 15, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 09, 2012

"Clemency: Old Problems and New Solutions"

The title of this post is the title of this lunchtime event sponsored by The Heritage Foundation in DC on Mondat December 10, 2012.  Here is the description:

Clemency, Alexander Hamilton said, “is an act of grace and humanity.” While President Obama has, at least so far, granted clemency only 22 times, other presidents, both Democrat and Republican, have been far more generous.  President George W. Bush, for example, pardoned, commuted or rescinded the convictions of 200 people, and President Bill Clinton did the same for 459 people.  President Jimmy Carter granted clemency 566 times during his one term in office, although that is far from the record, a distinction which belongs to President Franklin Roosevelt who granted clemency 3,687 times.  The Christmas season, a traditional time for presidential forgiveness, is a good time to re-examine how well the clemency process is working.

Join us for a discussion with a distinguished panel of bipartisan experts who will explore whether and how the clemency process has deviated from its proper, traditional function. Our panelists will also consider how to make pardons, as Chief Justice John Marshall said, “an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws, which exempts the individual, on whom it is bestowed, from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed.”

The event is to be moderated by Paul Rosenzweig, and here is the impressive group of speakers:

December 9, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Pardon people, not turkeys: Under President Obama, the odds of clemency or commutation are shamefully slim"

The title of this post is the headline and subheading of this recent commentary by Professor Mark Osler, which echoes my own frustrated reaction to today's scheduled holiday symbolism at the White House. Here are excerpts from the commentary:

While the president has been a regular dispenser of clemency to fowl, he has not been so generous to humans.  It is time for that disjuncture to end.

As ProPublica journalist Dafna Linzer pointed out earlier this month, President Obama has granted clemency more rarely than any modern president.  This is particularly striking when considering commutations, or the power to lessen a sentence while maintaining the underlying conviction (a pardon wipes out the conviction). According to Linzer's calculations, "under Reagan and Clinton, applicants for commutations had a 1 in 100 chance of success. Under George W. Bush, that fell to a little less than 1 in 1,000. Under Obama, an applicant's chance is slightly less than 1 in 5,000."

The founding fathers did not intend for the pardon power to fall into such disuse. As the framers made clear, this vestigial power of kings is rooted in policy concerns that ring very true today.  Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 74, argued that "the criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel."

Our federal system of criminal law has, of late, been "too sanguinary and cruel." For example, thousands of federal prisoners still languish under long sentences doled out under the now-amended 100-to-1 ratio between powder and crack cocaine that was built into the federal statutes and sentencing guidelines.  That ratio has been actively rejected by all three branches of government, but the only avenue to relief for those prisoners is commutation.  President Obama should look to the approach President Ford employed for draft evaders in 1974: A mass commutation pursuant to a process created to provide careful review of each case.

At the individual level, there are strikingly strong petitions for clemency currently before the president.  Since we started the nation's first law school clinic focused on federal commutations here at the University of St. Thomas, we have been deluged with letters asking for help.  One was from Weldon Angelos, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison for three small marijuana infractions and the possession of firearms that were neither used nor brandished.  He had only one prior conviction, stemming from a juvenile court charge for gun possession.

The Angelos case grew out of a perversion of mandatory minimum sentences embedded in federal statute and the actions of overaggressive prosecutors in Utah.  The result was so unfair that the sentencing judge, George W. Bush appointee Paul Cassell, pled for a presidential commutation of the sentence on the very pages of the sentencing opinion, saying that the 55-year term of imprisonment he was forced by statute to issue was "unjust, cruel, and even irrational."  Cassell substantiated this by pointing out the types of crimes that would have received a much shorter sentence: hijacking planes, raping children and murder....

For too long, we have filled our prisons with similar minor-league players in the drug game. It might make sense if this had solved a problem, but it hasn't.  The billions spent have not bought success at reducing drug use in this country.

A step in the right direction would be to use the pardon power to release those who present the strongest cases and those sentenced under statutes we have now seen fit to amend.  In those cases, clemency is more justice than mercy.  Instead of a photo op with a turkey, President Obama should begin a Thanksgiving tradition that reaches back to our true origins and our best values.

November 21, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Friday, November 09, 2012

Does Prez Obama's re-election make broader use of clemency power more or less likely?

The question in the title of this post reflect my nagging concern that President Obama, now that he has four more years in his current job and thus now more reasons to avoid using his political capital on criminal justice issues, will not begin to use his clemency powers more robustly anytime soon.  As regular readers know, Prez Obama has been historically stingy in his use of his clemency powers during his first term (details here and here).  But, with a re-election vote always on the horizon during his first term, the disinclination to risk getting political flack from the tough-on-crime crowd perhaps provided an understandable (if not justifiable) reason for such little use of this historically important and constitutionally significant presidential power.

Now, of course, Prez Obama no longer has to think about his own re-election.  Nevertheless, I fear that the desuetude marking his first-term treatment of the clemency power could become a habit. Had Obama lost his re-election bid, he would have only two months to complete his presidential legacy and a spate of clemency grants might be anticipated to be part of his finishing act. But now he has an extra four years and lots of other political and practical concerns with a second term approaching; it seems quite possible (and I fear likely) that clemency grants (as well as broader and much needed clemency reform) will now remain a back-burner matter for this President. 

I hope I am wrong, and perhaps commentors can give me reasons to not feel too pessimistic on this front.

Related recent posts concerning federal clemency practices:

November 9, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, November 02, 2012

"Obama Has Granted Clemency More Rarely Than Any Modern President"

The title of this post is the headline of this story by Dafna Linzer of ProPublica, which tells a tale familiar to regular readers of this blog (and a story which I hope and tentatively predict will change after next week). Here is how the lengthy piece gets started:

A former brothel manager who helped the FBI bust a national prostitution ring. A retired sheriff who inadvertently helped a money launderer buy land.  A young woman who mailed ecstasy tablets for a drug-dealing boyfriend, then worked with investigators to bring him down.  All of them and hundreds more were denied pardons by President Obama, who has granted clemency at a lower rate than any modern president, a ProPublica review of pardons data shows.

The Constitution gives the president unique power to forgive individuals for federal offenses. While pardons do not wipe away convictions, they can restore a person's full rights to vote, possess firearms and obtain business licenses, as well as remove barriers to certain career opportunities and adoptions.  For many applicants, a pardon is simply an opportunity for a fresh start.

But Obama has parceled out forgiveness far more rarely than his recent predecessors, pardoning just 22 individuals while denying 1,019.  He has given pardons to roughly 1 of every 50 individuals whose applications were processed by the Justice Department.  At this point in his presidency, Ronald Reagan had pardoned 1 of every 3 such applicants. George H.W. Bush had pardoned 1 in 16.  Bill Clinton had pardoned 1 in 8.  George W. Bush had pardoned 1 in 33.

Obama also has been stingy with commutations, applications for early release by those still serving federal prison sentences.  Under Reagan and Clinton, applicants for commutations had a 1 in 100 chance of success.  Under George W. Bush, that fell to a little less than 1 in 1,000.  Under Obama, an applicant's chance is slightly less than 1 in 5,000.

Though the data above covers familiar ground for those who follow these matters, this press story goes on to report a lot of notable new information.  Here is a sample:

Several administration officials who agreed to discuss pardons on the condition of anonymity said the president pardoned nearly every person recommended by Rodgers for approval in his first two years in office, but that such applicants were few and far between.  While the number of applicants has increased in recent years, Obama — based on Rodgers' recommendations — is denying more people more swiftly than any of his recent predecessors, the data shows....

Currently, two government officials said, there are about a dozen positive recommendations and hundreds of negative ones waiting for the president to act on.  At least one commutation request is pending.  The White House also has asked for a fresh review of the case of Clarence Aaron, who is serving a triple life-sentence, without parole, for his role in a drug conspiracy.  ProPublica and The Washington Post published a story about Aaron's case in May.

November 2, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NACDL launches extraordinary new resource: on-line state-by-state "Restoration of Rights Database"

Us_map_legaledAs detailed in this news release, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has rolled out a amazing new on-line resource. I will let part of the text of the release explain:

NACDL is pleased to offer as both a resource for its members and as a service to the general public, a collection of individual downloadable documents that profile the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to relief from the numerous civil rights and other consequences of criminal conviction.  NACDL today launches this new section of its online Resource Center to house NACDL member and former U.S. Pardon Attorney (1990-97) Margaret Colgate Love’s comprehensive work on this topic in a user-friendly format.  It promises to be an indispensable guide for defense lawyers as well as members of the public affected by the collateral consequences of a conviction and those re-entering society or the workforce after a conviction.

As a result of the twin crises of overcriminalization and mass imprisonment in the United States, the population that can be served by this tremendous new resource is, sadly, enormous.... [because] is reported that some 65 million people, or one in four Americans, have an arrest or conviction record.

This new resource offers free assistance to those tens of millions of people and their lawyers, offering an interactive map with individual profiles summarizing the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction and the federal system regarding relief from the collateral consequences of conviction, including obtaining a pardon, expungement and the restoration of civil rights.  Click on a jurisdiction and you will get a short summary and a full profile detailing that jurisdiction’s law relating to both the loss and restoration of civil rights and firearms privileges and discussing any provisions on non-discrimination in employment and licensing.  These materials will be an enormous aid to lawyers in minimizing the collateral consequences suffered by clients and in restoring their rights and privileges.

In addition to the jurisdictional profiles, there is a set of charts covering all 50 states plus territories and the federal system, that provide a side by side comparison that makes it possible to see national patterns in restoration laws and policies....

A team of pro bono attorneys at the firm of Crowell & Moring LLP, led by partner Harry P. Cohen, provided significant assistance with this project, as did a number of law students from the Washington College of Law at American University and the University of Toledo School of law. Detailed acknowledgements are provided on the project’s home page, which is now live and publicly available at www.nacdl.org/rightsrestoration.

I have now already spent more than an hour clicking around these NACDL pages to discover a stunning amount of valuable and user-friendly materials assembled via this project.  Kudos to everyone involved in this important and productive endeavor.

October 24, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Collateral consequences, Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Following up with killer saved from death via clemency by Ohio Gov Kasich

My local Columbus Dispatch has this interesting story following up on an Ohio condemned inmate a year after his death sentence was commuted to LWOP. The piece is headlined "No future, but it beats death for spared man," and here are excerpts:

Joseph Murphy knows he will die in prison. He just doesn’t know when. He’s OK with that. “I have accepted the fact I will be here the rest of my life,” he said.  “Whatever happens in here, it’s better than it was at home."

Murphy was supposed to be executed by the state on Oct. 18, 2011, for the 1987 throat-slashing murder of 72-year-old Ruth Predmore during a robbery at her home in Marion. Over 24 years, courts at all levels had rejected his appeals.  His attorneys, public defenders Pamela J. Prude-Smithers and Kathryn L. Sandford, knew Gov. John Kasich was their client’s last hope.

On Sept. 26 last year, Kasich intervened, commuting Murphy’s death sentence to life without the possibility of parole.  Kasich said considering Murphy’s “brutally abusive upbringing and the relatively young age at which he committed this terrible crime, the death penalty is not appropriate in this case.”

Murphy, 47, who spent most of his life — beginning at age 6 — in juvenile lockups, mental-health wards and prison, now faces the prospect of living the rest of his days with no hope of freedom.  The third of Stella and Jerry Murphy’s six children, he was raised in a West Virginia tarpaper shack with no plumbing or electricity.  His mother often failed to feed him as a child, and his father beat him and his siblings with switches, belts and extension cords.

Murphy was stabbed in the head with a steak knife by his brother, raped by a man who supplied Murphy’s father with moonshine and set on fire to prevent a children’s services worker from seeing welts on his back from recent beatings.

Prison is the only real home Murphy knows.  He calls himself “state-raised.”  After spending two decades alone in a cell, Murphy now has a cellmate and is housed in a unit with dozens of other prisoners.  “It was mind-rattling,” he said during an interview last week at the Toledo Correctional Institution, where he was transferred from Death Row at the Ohio State Penitentiary at Youngstown.  “ It was kind of hard being around a bunch of people. ... It’s hard getting used to the noise.”

In nearly a year in Toledo, Murphy hasn’t had an infraction, said Darlene Mitchell, assistant to the warden.  He has corresponded with Peg Predmore Kavanagh, the 68-year-old niece of Murphy’s victim.  Kavanagh testified via video in support of clemency for Murphy at the Ohio Parole Board hearing last year....

His abusive father is dead, and Murphy hasn’t had a single visit, letter or call from his mother or four brothers.  “At first, I was upset.  I wrote to them and said I was off Death Row,” he said.  “I sent her more letters and cards at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but she didn’t write back.  I love my mother to death and I always will.  But it seems like she’s upset that I wasn’t executed.”

September 25, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"A Biblical Value in the Constitution: Mercy, Clemency, Faith, and History"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new paper by Professor Mark Osler now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

The United States Constitution is a strikingly secular document, and claims that the United States was founded as a “Christian Nation” find little support there.  However, the majority of Americans are Christian, and it should not be surprising that many of them look for a reflection of their faith’s values in the government that is structured by that secular Constitution.

This article urges that those who seek Christian values in the government processes allowed by the secular Constitution pay greater attention to the neglected pardon clause. The exercise of mercy is a fundamental Christian imperative, and the idea of pardon is an important and compelling theme in the gospels themselves: Jesus was nearly granted clemency by Pilate, and Jesus himself grants a pardon to the woman who is about to be executed in John 8.  To the serious scholar who believes in both the imperatives of Christ and the secular limitations of the Constitution, the pardon power provides a rare instance of those roads running together.

September 22, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Religion, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Prosecutorial Administration"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper now available via SSRN authored by Rachel Barkow. Here is the abstract:

It is by now well known that federal prosecutors hold the reins of power in individual federal criminal cases.  They have almost unlimited and unreviewable power to select the charges that will be brought against defendants. Prosecutors have also been a driving force in the political arena for mandatory minimum sentences and new federal criminal laws.

But prosecutorial power over federal criminal justice policy goes deeper still. Because of the structure of the Department of Justice, prosecutors are involved in other areas of criminal justice policymaking.  Indeed, we are living in a time of “prosecutorial administration,” with prosecutors at the helm of every major federal criminal justice matter.

This Article describes the current regime of “prosecutorial administration” and explains why its consequences should concern anyone interested in a rational criminal justice regime that is unbiased in any particular direction.  It focuses on three areas of criminal justice policy -- corrections, clemency, and forensics -- and describes how these matters came under the aegis of the Department without much concern about the conflicts they would create with the Department’s law enforcement mission.  It is a well-established feature of institutional design that agencies with competing mandates will adhere to the dominant one. In the case of the Department of Justice, that dominant mandate is undoubtedly law enforcement and obtaining convictions in particular cases.  As a result, whenever conflicts arise (or appear to arise) between this mission and other functions such as corrections, clemency, or forensic science, the law enforcement interests (as perceived by the Department’s prosecutors) will dominate.

Thus, if decisions about corrections, forensics, and clemency are being made by prosecutors -- and thus through the lens of what would be good for prosecutors and their cases -- it is possible that these decisions are not accounting for what would be good policy overall, taking into account interests other than law enforcement.  Indeed, even if the goal is law enforcement, prosecutors are not well-suited to take into account the long-term goals of law enforcement because they are focused on the short-term pressure of dealing with current cases.

The Article thus turns to the question of how institutional design could help create more of a balanced approach in these areas that is not so tilted to law enforcement concerns.  After making the case that institutional change is feasible in at least some areas, the Article tackles the question of what changes could yield positive results in each of these areas and what tradeoffs they entail.

August 22, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Death row prisoner in Oregon prevails (for now) in effort reject Gov's effort to preclude his execution

As reported in this local article, headlined "Judge rules inmate Gary Haugen, seeking execution, has right to reject governor's reprieve," the first round of fascinating role-reversal capital litigation taking place in Oregon has been won by a condemned murderer seeking to be executed. Here are the basics:

Death row inmate Gary Haugen won a legal battle Friday against Gov. John Kitzhaber when a judge ruled he could reject the governor's reprieve of his execution and move forward in his efforts to die by lethal injection. The opinion by Senior Judge Timothy P. Alexander is expected to initiate new adversarial proceedings between the prisoner who volunteered to die and the governor who had a change of heart about capital punishment....

Alexander, a state senior judge handling the case in Marion County, wrote that he put his personal feelings aside, ruling on legal precedent and the facts of the case. He took the unusual step of writing that his decision wasn't intended as criticism of Kitzhaber or the views the governor expressed when he issued the reprieve in November.

"In fact," Alexander wrote, "I agree with many of the concerns expressed by the governor, and share his hope that the Legislature will be receptive to modifying and improving Oregon laws regarding sentencing for aggravated murder. Many Oregon judges with experience presiding over death penalty cases would concur that the current law requires spending extraordinary sums of tax dollars that could be better used for other purposes to enforce a system that rarely if ever result in executions."

Alexander's opinion says that Kitzhaber can give Haugen a reprieve until he leaves office, but Haugen is not obliged to accept it. "Because (Haugen) has unequivocally rejected the reprieve, it is therefore ineffective," the judge wrote.

Kitzhaber's office responded to the ruling, saying the governor likely will appeal it. "We are confident that the governor's authority will be upheld," the statement said.

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, who advocates for Oregon's death penalty, credits Kitzhaber for taking a strong stand on such an emotional issue. But that stand, he said, comes with some political risk, because the majority of Oregon voters support capital punishment. "The downside is, Oregonians are going to look at him when he runs for re-election and say, 'Wait a minute, does he really respect the law?"...

Haugen was sentenced to life in prison for murdering the mother of his former girlfriend in Northeast Portland in 1981. He later murdered a fellow prisoner at Oregon State Penitentiary. A jury sentenced him to death in 2007....

If the governor appeals, the case could go before the Oregon Court of Appeals or the Oregon Supreme Court, depending on decisions made by parties to the case, said Phil Lemman, a spokesman for the Oregon Judicial Department. After that, a death warrant hearing would need to be scheduled before Haugen could be executed. "We're a ways away from knowing when any execution date would be," Lemman said.

The process struck Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, as wasteful. "This case is probably going to drag through more courts and go back and forth before it's finally decided," said Dieter, whose organization collects comprehensive national data on capital punishment and is widely viewed as opposed to the death penalty.

The full seven-page ruling in this first round of Haugen v. Kitzhaber is available at this link.

Related posts:

August 4, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Press and pressure prompting talk of clemency reforms in White House

As reported in this encouraging new story from Danfa Linzer at ProPublica, headlined "Obama Administration Wants Review of Prisoner’s Commutation Request," it appears that all the bad press about federal clemency practices has gotten some traction in the White House. Here is how the story starts:

The Obama administration has asked for a fresh review of an Alabama federal inmate's commutation request and directed the Justice Department to conduct its first ever in-depth analysis of recommendations for presidential pardons, according to several officials and individuals involved.

The Office of Pardon Attorney has been at the center of growing controversy since December, when stories published by ProPublica and The Washington Post revealed a racial disparity in pardons. White applicants were four times more likely to receive presidential mercy than minorities. African Americans had the least chance of success.

A subsequent story published in May recounted the saga of Clarence Aaron, a first-time offender sentenced in 1993 to three life terms in prison for his role in a drug conspiracy. In 2008, the pardon attorney recommended that President George W. Bush deny Aaron's request for a commutation even though his application had the support of the prosecutor's office that tried him and the judge who sentenced him. The pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, did not fully disclose that information to the White House.

The handling of Aaron's case prompted widespread criticism that the pardon office -- which has rejected applications at an unprecedented pace under Rodgers -- is not giving clemency requests proper consideration.

Aaron filed a new commutation request in 2010, which is pending. In the past two months, his cause has been taken up by members of Congress, law professors and prominent civil rights advocates, many of whom have called for a broader investigation of the pardon process.

Since 2008, more than 7,000 applications for commutations have been denied, more than 22 times the total rejected in President Ronald Reagan's two terms. Obama has commuted the sentence of just one person. Recent presidents also have granted fewer pardons than their predecessors. Bush granted 189 during his two-term presidency, less than half the number pardoned by President Bill Clinton. So far, Obama has pardoned 22 individuals.

Advisers to the president said they expect that number to rise significantly whether or not he is elected to a second term. "There will be 76 days between the election and inauguration for the president to exercise his power," said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

Officials said there has been growing interest inside the White House for reforming the pardon process, specifically how recommendations are made to the president.

Though I am very disinclined to count any clemency chickens before they are hatched, this story at least gives some new hope to those long concerned about modern federal pardon practices.

July 19, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Monday, July 16, 2012

Iowa Gov uses clemency power to devise (astute? sinister?) response to Miller for juve LWOPers

A helpful reader from Iowa alerted me to this notable story from the Hawkeye State, headlined "Branstad commutes life sentences for 38 Iowa juvenile murderers."  Here are the interesting details of how one state's governor is taking the lead in responding to last month's SCOTUS ruling in Miller:

Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the life sentences of 38 juveniles Monday, giving them mandatory 60-year prison terms instead. The governor’s action comes in response to last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama, in which the court ruled that states could not require life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles found guilty of first-degree murder.

The ruling raised the possibility that anyone sentenced to life without parole before they were 18 could petition the court for a new trial. By using his commutation powers, the governor appears to have taken that option off the table.

“During this process, the victims are all too often forgotten by our justice system and are forced to relive the pain of the tragedies,” Branstad said. “These victims have had their loved ones violently taken away from them. I take this action today to protect these victims, their loved ones’ memories and to protect the safety of all Iowans.”...

In compliance with the Supreme Court decision, Branstad commuted the life without parole sentences to life with the possibility of parole only after 60 years for the 38 people, who were convicted of first-degree murder while juveniles. This action means that they will not have the possibility of parole until they have served 60 years.

“Justice is a balance, and these commutations ensure that justice is balanced with punishment for those vicious crimes and taking into account public safety,” said Branstad. “First-degree murder is an intentional and premeditated crime and those who are found guilty are dangerous and should be kept off the streets and out of our communities.”

This action by Iowa's governor seems like an especially efficient means to deal with Miller issues, though whether it merits praise or criticism on other grounds is surely to be impacted by one's perspective on the virtues and vices of the Supreme Court's ruling in Miller.  In addition, as noted by the helpful reader who alerted me to this story, the legal status of this action is itself perhaps open to question:

[This result] raises questions concerning the constitutionality of such a sentence, given (1) the fact that no individualized hearing as contemplated by Miller would apparently be held (the Iowa Court of Appeals recently reversed and remanded two cases for such hearings in State v. Bennett, 2012 Iowa App. LEXIS 542 (Iowa Ct. App. July 11, 2012) and State v. Lockheart, 2012 Iowa App. LEXIS 531 (Iowa Ct. App. July 11, 2012)), and (2) the potential disparity in sentence with future juvenile murderers since Iowa statutory law would not contemplate such a sentence.

July 16, 2012 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Clemency and Pardons, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack