« A challenge for those troubled by Trump's final month clemencies: identify dozens, hundreds of comparable cases for Biden's first month | Main | "Trump pardoned us. But pardons don’t replace criminal justice reform." »

December 24, 2020

Rounding up some (but not enough) state clemency stories this holiday week

With Prez Trump setting quite the clemency pace (basics here and here), it would be nice if I could report here about similar holiday-week grants of pardons and commutations coming from Governors in every single state across the nation.  Sadly, my Google news searches have so far revealed reports of clemency grants from only a handful of states.  But I am still keen to highlight these stories, especially because grants from the Centennial State include a long-ago, high-profile "15 minutes of fame" case:

From Colorado, "Gov. Jared Polis pardons Balloon Boy’s parents, grants clemency to 20 othersGovernor also commutes sentence of white collar criminal who received one of longest prison terms in state history."

From Michigan, "Whitmer grants clemency to 4, including state's 'longest serving non-violent offender'"

From Missouri, "Missouri governor pardons 24, commutes the sentences of four offenders"

From New York, "Governor Cuomo Grants Clemency to 21 Individuals"

From North Carolina, "NC governor pardons 5, including man wrongly imprisoned for 44 years"

From Texas, "Gov. Greg Abbott pardons seven Texans ahead of Christmas"

For those who do not remember the "Balloon Boy" case, here are prior posts about the case from way back in 2009:

December 24, 2020 at 05:01 PM | Permalink


I wonder if anyone has thoughts on the Balloon Boy (BB) pardons?

My very cursory understanding is that CO has such limited sealing/expungement that it would be effectively unavailable in the BB case. So in that sense, I get that a pardon is the only way to address collateral consequences, which apparently has been an issue for the BB parents, or at least the dad. Not that collateral consequences aren't onerous, but I don't see how their case is any different from the garden variety.

To me, a pardon should be prompted by some kind of severe injustice, such as in the individual circumstances or based on the injustice of the law of conviction itself. Nothing like that seems to be present here, so why single the BB parents out?

I get that BB might be viewed as a "victimless crime" in the sense that nobody was physically hurt or killed and no individuals, at least, were deprived of any money/property. So maybe it's somewhat comparable to Bridgegate, where even all the Justices that pass for liberal these days thought such "crimes" were really no big deal.

But to me the BB stunt was still fairly loathsome. We're talking about people who, if not affluent, are not exactly struggling either and seem to be reasonably ok middle-ish class. The dad is a white male, so privilege, and the mom, while a minority, is not of the historically oppressed variety (yes, WWII is a mammoth exception there, but you have to go back almost 80 years). So it's not at all a crime of desperation, except in the sense that they were desperate for the attention and fame they apparently thought was owed to them. And they felt entitled to commit a hoax to obtain that. To me, that is "fraud" of a certain kind, because they used deceit to prey on the sympathies of the broader public, especially including gov't first responders. Moreover, the gov't was "defrauded" of its finite resources that could have been used for actual, deserving emergencies. (You can sort of tell how I feel about Bridgegate at this point!)

Summing up, I just don't get why BB, compared to a case that actually involved desperate or difficult circumstances, or a serious injustice, merits this special treatment.

Even if you disregard or disagree with all the above, the stated basis for the pardon, at least in part, doesn't even make sense on its own terms. The Gov. said: "These individuals have taken responsibility for their past actions[.]" But apparently, the BB parents, or at least the dad, are still persisting to this day in their denial that it was even a hoax. That hardly seems like taking responsibility. If the Gov. just insisted on pardoning them no matter how slimy their actions and how undeserving they are, you'd think he could've at least conditioned it on coming clean and finally admitting the hoax unequivocally.

That's just my take though. I'd love to hear other views. FWIW, I have no particular connection to CO and, this episode aside, I generally have a favorable opinion of the Gov., although I can't say I've been following his administration closely.

Posted by: hardreaders | Dec 25, 2020 10:30:07 AM

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