Sunday, May 22, 2011

Eight More Pardons for Those Who Don't Need Them

It was early Friday morning (or late Thursday night, depending on how you count these things), that I wrote about how the majority of the judges on the 11th Circuit told Ezell Gilbert that it really was a shame that he has to serve 8 1/2 years more than a legal sentence would be but that, darn it, that's just one of those things.
Cue music here.
Near the end, I pointed out that Obama could fix the problem but that the evidence was that he wouldn't.
Of course, Presidents have the power to remedy this sort of thing.  Obama could commute Ezell Gilbert's sentence tomorrow.  Don't hold your breath.  P.S. Ruckman, Jr. has the numbers at the Pardon Power blog.  (The boldface is Ruckman's.)
The last 12 presidents have, on average, waited 338 days (.9 years) before granting the first commutation of sentence. President Obama, who has yet to grant a single commutation of sentence, has waited 834 days (or 2.3 years). No president has been slower to grant a commutation of sentence save George W. Bush!
The Pardon Power blog, written by P.S. Ruckman, Jr., is a great resource if you're interested in this sort of thing.  I don't have it on the blog roll because, well, there are lots of great resources out there and it's my blog roll so I get to pick and choose.  But I go over there fairly regularly and there's always something interesting.
So, even though I went there early Friday morning/late Thursday night to get those numbers I'd seen a few days earlier, I really should have gone back later on Friday.  Had I, I would have found "Obama: 8 More Pardons to the Tiny Little Pile."
  1. Gotten more and more interesting numbers about commutations, and from the same post
  2. Learned that Friday afternoon, Obama issued 8 pardons, the first since the 9 he issued in December, bringing his total up to 17.
And what an 8 they are.  Evildoers all.
  • Back in 1980, Danny Alonzo Levitz was sentenced to 2 years probation for conspiracy.
  • That same year, Edwin Alan North got 6 months probation for not paying tax on the transfer of a firearm. 
  • Patricia Ann Weinzati was ordered to serve 3 years probation for structuring financial transactions so as to avoid reporting requirements.
  • Christine Marie Rossiter had to do 500 hours of community service as part of her 3 years probation for conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
The others did some time.
  • Michael Ray Neal - 6 months for manufacturing equipment to steal cable signals.
  • Allen Edward Peratt, Sr. - 30 months for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.
  • Randy Eugene Dyer - 5 years (though it was back in 1975) for conspiracy to import marijuana.
  • Bobby Gerald Wilson - 3 months and 18 days plus 300 hours of community service for selling alligator hides to the feds.
Good for Obama.  But really, is this the best he can do?
Should I add that none of these people are currently in prison?  Or under any sort of supervision?  Nah, you knew that.
Ruckman runs some numbers.
President Obama has now granted a mere 17 presidential pardons (all announced on Friday afternoons) and, amazingly enough, zero commutations of sentence. He has been in office for 850 days. How does he compare to other Democratic presidents? By this point in his own administration, Bill Clinton had granted 55 pardons and commutations of sentence. Jimmy Carter had granted 312 pardons and commutations and JFK had granted 381. Lyndon Johnson had granted 717 pardons and commutations.
Indeed, only a Republican, George W. Bush, has been slower to grant a single commutation of sentence. Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) notes fairly enough:

"We’re happy that these eight people will have their civil rights restored by this presidential pardon, but it's sad that the Justice Department has not brought the president one prison sentence to shorten. It can’t be true that there isn't a single person among the 210,000 currently in federal prison who shouldn't be there. In fact, during the campaign the president acknowledged that federal prisons are filled with nonviolent offenders serving excessive sentences. Why, then, can’t he find one to commute?"
I've said before, and repeatedly, that clemency (which is what a pardon or commutation is) is an act of grace.  It's about generosity of spirit.  It speaks to what we might aspire to be.
Whatever you think of Obama's politics or policies, generosity of spirit as reflected in acts of executive grace doesn't seem to rank high.
But its good news for the guy who sold the alligator skins to the FBI.
* * * * *
On the other hand, Myanmar's ruling junta just announced that it's granting amnesty to some 15,000 or so prisoners, converting death sentences to life, and reducing by a year the prison sentences of everyone else.
Not quite golden for the 2000 plus political prisoners, though.  only about 30 of them will be getting out.  And as Human Rights Watch points out, reducing a sentence of 65 years to one of 64 isn't really all that generous.

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