Begging Your Pardon, President Obama!

White House turns back on clemency, including reduced sentences

Barack Obama's election in 2008 caused a jump in the number of requests for pardons and commuted sentences, perhaps fueled by assumptions that a Democrat would be more predisposed to rule favorably on these petitions. Right around his election, the number of clemency requests jumped to more than 2,600.

The conventional wisdom is that presidents don't want to grant clemency for fear of appearing soft on crime. Indeed, Obama has had a rough presidency in other ways, too, what with two wars and an enduring economic meltdown. With a bruising re-election campaign fast approaching and his approval rating falling, perhaps his advisers are telling him that using his pardon power will only damage his chances.

Meanwhile, Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, was burned in the Clinton-era pardon scandals and thus might be a little clemency-averse himself.

"With Obama, I think it comes down to Eric Holder," Ruckman says. "I don't think he has a serious interest in clemency policy, so I don't think clemency policy is a serious concern in this administration."

In the Clinton era, Holder infamously overruled his pardon attorney and backed pardons for Rich, a fugitive financier who made illegal oil deals with Iran during the hostage crisis, and a group of Puerto Rican terrorists, the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, who conducted dozens of bomb attacks in the U.S. in the 1970s and early 1980s. Both issues dogged Holder during his confirmation hearings. ("Why would he recommend clemency for unrepentant terrorists?" one senator asked.)

But some observers think that presidential politics actually has little to do with why Obama has issued so few pardons and no sentence reductions. Staffing isn't so much of an issue, either—the number of people working in the Justice Department office, which reviews pardon and clemency requests, has changed little in more than five years.

Instead, they say, it's more a function of the arcane internal activities of the Justice Department: more policy than politics.

"Obama has effectively ceded control over the pardon program to career bureaucrats in the Justice Department, who merely parrot the views of line prosecutors," a former Justice Department official says.

In essence, these critics say, justice has dismantled the administrative functions of the pardon office, which is supposed to investigate the petitions filed by prisoners. As a result, all those carefully prepared requests for clemency aren't getting the kind of review they deserve.

Instead, a lot of petitions get a cursory review and are shipped off to the White House in minimalist lumps known as "summary group reports," which don't provide enough information to allow the president to make an informed choice.

The major change since 2008, when the current pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers, took over, this former official says, is that the few early releases, or "commutations," done in the past have disappeared entirely.

"Virtually all commutations are simply round-filed as soon as they hit the door," the former justice official says. "They are no longer assigned to staff lawyers, and in all but a tiny handful of cases, no report or recommendation is forwarded to the White House."

Rather, the White House just gets a list of names and a memo saying that each case is without merit. In other words, the president has no idea what's behind each case.

"With that kind of 'advice,' the president has little choice but to deny the cases or risk granting commutations to people he knows nothing about," says the former justice official. "Justice knows this and cynically exploits the flow of information to achieve the desired result."

Indeed, adds former U.S. pardon attorney Margaret Colgate Love, "the president is getting a name on a piece of paper and very little more. What kind of decision can he make from that? And yet, that's what the pardon attorney is delivering."

Love, who ran the Justice Department's executive clemency program from 1990 to 1997, represents Stanham and Benjamin Share, among others seeking clemency. From her perspective, the policy change in justice began almost 20 years ago with the victory of the view that prosecutors who had handled the original cases shouldn't now be second-guessed.

Peter Stanham's plea for mercy has the support of both the prosecutor and judge in his case. But that example aside, Love argues that the most important negative influence on presidential pardoning was the "hostility of federal prosecutors and a change in the administration of the pardon program at the Justice Department that allowed prosecutors to control clemency recommendations."

"The story is that the Justice Department has essentially shut down the clemency process," Love says. "They are not fully investigating the applications. The pardon program lost independence and integrity, and Clinton suffered mightily for it at the end of his term."

Love is referring to the last-minute clemency grants made by Clinton on his final day in office. "Justice gave him no advice, and so he opened the door and let people in," she says. "As a result, there were so many bad grants. A similar thing happened at the end of the Bush administration, but he refused to repeat Clinton's mistake."

In "The Twilight of the Pardon Power," published in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology in 2010, Love argued that "the paucity of grants at the end of President Bush's term, like the torrent of grants at the end of President Clinton's, can be attributed to a chronically dysfunctional pardon-advisory system in the Justice Department, a system dominated by prosecutors that produces few favorable recommendations, and that serves its own institutional interest rather than that of the presidency. Clinton dealt with that problem by staffing pardons in the White House."

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19 comments
MrsJC
MrsJC

In a country where people are always waving a cross because Religion rules where does compassion come into the picture?

What Would Jesus Do" I believe the answer is to seek  justice.So where are all the cross bearing citizens? This is an obvious injustice. Didn't anyone learn in church to care for others? Shame on any one who considers them self to be a moral and religious person and turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. Those who have the ability to take action and help do nothing  can spend eternity wondering why they have been forsaken. We are supposed to be our brother's keeper.

 

Did Jesus not say:   

‘I assure you that whatever you failed to do to the humblest of my brothers you failed to do to me.’

Paul Rusin
Paul Rusin

Rwjohnson40: The Obama Justice Dept., also failed to prosecute the New Black Panthers for intimidation at the polls in Philadelphia; tried to prosecute terrorists (enemy combatants) in U.S. courts, instead of in military courts where they belonged; put together a failed 'Fast & Furious' gun running scheme to track illegal weapons in a foreign country w/o that countries permission, caused the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of Mexican citizens, and the deaths of at least one U.S. border patrol agent. He's doing a bang up job.

Rwjohnson40
Rwjohnson40

The justice department under Obama and Holder will be remembered in history as one of the worst! They have failed to prosecute Bush-Cheney war crimes. They are going to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries in California. They supported the extension of the Patriot Act with all the privacy invasions you can imagine. Holder makes Alberto Gonzales look like Louis Brandis!

Winemaster2
Winemaster2

The US Justice department suck to high heavens and the people employed there are just patronage hacks doing bidding of the system that is rotten to the core. That is precisely this nation is stacked high with ever growing prison population and the taxpayers burdened with his unholy and down right idiocy. Let alone this business of clemency and pardons which may not be front burner issue, the DOJ is uncaring, negligent and down right abusive when it come to the proliferation of use, abuse, exploitation of these intelligence agencies, their outsourced cohorts all the way down from the CIA, FBI, any and all military intelligence, NSA etc who are with coercion and conservative republican instigators in the first place do absolutely nothing to stop harassing innocent US citizens. Obama administration does not even know or just does not care to find out what is really going on.

His initial mistake is to keep all the conservative republican Bushee and others including a slew of them in the DOJ, FBI Directors himself his subs, even Bill Gates the Bush DOD Secretary etc. Then he assembled himself with Clinton hog wash advisers relating to the economy , the banking fiasco, the siege mentality that this nation is saddled with, plus this big white elephant of the home land security. The whole national security entourage is gun ho conservative, with mind set that the rest of the world is US enemy. This this ideology goes back to Reagan conservative revolution and was triply reinforced when Bush/ Cheney took over with Karl Rove in the WH, Condi Rice as National Security Adviser, Rumsfeld at DOD and these conservative republicans for 8 years engaging in the secret govt of executive privilege with aiding, abetting of the conservative republican dominated US Supreme court that condoned all the Bush / Cheney hog wash that led this nation to be economic terror siege, ideologically divided, polarized and on a fast track of self destruction from within.

Obama is stuck with priorities that he cannot fix or resolve because the US Congress in which over 85% of the people has no confidence and the Judicial Branch of the Govt is equally malfeasance, derelict, abusive and corrupt. Jurisprudence in this nation is a business and the connected good old boys fix everything as per what they consider is right. Guilt or innocence is totally irrelevant..

Let us assume that what is presented in this article is absolutely correct. Nevertheless this system is not working because the Judicial Branch is far more wacko, dysfunctional, and passing the buck. These Judges at all levels, except for a handful, are all inefficient, negligent, control freaks, exercising abuse, and power. The prosecutors vicious dogs, that lie, cheat to score convictions to enhance their careers.

If the DOJ is bogged down and the Executive out of the loops in these cases, where clemency and pardons petitions are not handled, there is an alternative. In 100% of the cases after judgement is dished out the trial judges, who are aware of the circumstance, conditions, health status, age etc have the authority to change things and retain jurisdictions. All that needs to be done is that the attorneys for the defendants file modification of sentences considering mitigating and extra ordinary circumstances. The trial Judges and their colleagues in the Courts where the initial trials took place can review the sentences considering the mitigating factors, conditions, age, medical status and all. Why put the onus on to the Executive and the DOJ for some other hack to waste the taxpayers money and just expand the mess for the executive level politicians to complicate the existing mess.

These trial judges, their cohorts and thousands of them with their senior status can start reviewing this mess and start releasing and or modifying the sentences.

Nevertheless just at the US Supreme Court that only works 9 months a year, the rest of these high and mighty judges are even worst when it come to some compassion, doing the right thing and help this moribund nation that is bogged down in the sewer of its own creation.

Alva
Alva

LIVE A LAWFUL LIFE W/O COMMITTING CRIMES AND THIS BEGGING FOR MERCY WOULD NOT BE NECESSARY. PEOPLE WHO WERE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND SHOULD HAVE CONSIDERED THE CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR CRIMINAL, NONE LOGICAL, ACTIONS PRIOR TO. WE ALL COMMIT LAW VIOLATIONS BUT THESE PEOPLE WENT THE EXTRA STEP ... PUTTING THEM AND THEIR LOVED ONES IN JEOPARDY. JUST THINK!

BlackHeywood
BlackHeywood

To some people life in prison means just that. I happen to agree.

MikeL
MikeL

It's as simple as this..... Do the crime! Do the time!

jpaint
jpaint

Maybe the judicial system should take responsibility for its own actions!!! Village Voice, can you please write an article worth reading! And maybe next time, ask Obama what's going on instead of writing such distracting bullshit.

MaryYoung15
MaryYoung15

....my sisters friend makes $50 an hour on the computer. She has been out of job for 9 months but last month her cheque was $6200 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read about it here CashMany.com

Sakara
Sakara

never ending liberals cry baby stories about how illegal aliens who do crimes shouldn't be locked up in jail but sent home to their native scumbag countries to live the high life.

Sirreene
Sirreene

Sakara - did you even READ the article? The man is not an illegal alien. He has a green card. You would rather pay for his incarceration with your tax dollars? I would rather he be sent home to the country of this birth.

jpaint
jpaint

you're an idiot.

SAKARA
SAKARA

and i guess i gotta go to your level and say; SO ARE YOU!

Linda
Linda

Tomorrow brings another birthday for me. Another birthday spent without the only living parent I have to spend the day with. Next month the President will actually pardon something and it will be a Thanksgiving turkey while my family along with the Curry & Stanton family and over 1,000 other families await a decision from the Pardon Attorney's office. Unfortunately not all of us have all the time in the world to wait for this decision. Linda Daughter of 83 year old inmate Benjamin Shareawaiting a decision since October 2010

TioDon
TioDon

Waaaaaaa, I don't care.

James Hodges
James Hodges

The turkey deserves a pardon… it didn’t do anything… If you can’t do the time… don’t do the crime…! “Not all of us have all the time in the world to wait for this decision...?” I beg to differ they have all the time that’s left on their sentence…!

 
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