Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Help on the Way for Pardon Seekers?

According to this latest article in ProPublica's multi-part expose of the flawed presidential pardoning process, former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich plans to launch a program to help people seek pardons -- by setting up a student-staffed law clinic at a Washington, DC-area law school:
Ehrlich's proposal takes aim at the inequities identified by ProPublica's investigation into the dispensation of presidential pardons over the past decade. White applicants were nearly four times as likely to receive forgiveness as minorities, the ProPublica analysis showed. African Americans had the worst chances of being pardoned. Applicants with congressional support were three times as likely to receive pardons as those without it.
Ehrlich, who granted clemency to more than 200 convicts while in office from 2003 to 2007, said a pardons program would help disadvantaged applicants and give law school students the experience [of] dealing with people seeking a second chance, fostering "a sense of fairness and justice."
FAMM applauds Governor Ehrlich for striving to fill this gap in the legal aid available to those with criminal records.  Ehrlich is still seeking funding and a university to house and run the clinic.

ProPublica's investigative journalism has revealed deep flaws in how the presidential pardon process operates.  Reforms have been suggested, but so far have never been put in place:
[Former White House Counsel Greg] Craig advocated for pardon reform while in the White House, assigning a group of lawyers to design a process that would make pardons more attainable. Among the options discussed was support for a law school clinic.
But none of the pardon reforms formulated early in the administration have advanced. Kathryn Ruemmler, who became Obama's third White House counsel last June, was among the lawyers who worked with Craig on them. Obama has turned down more pardon applicants, 1,019, and pardoned fewer, 22 - two of whom were minorities - than any modern president at this point in an administration.
The Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney assesses each pardon candidate and makes recommendations to the president. Obama has followed them in nearly every case, as did President George W. Bush. ProPublica found that the pardon office recommends white candidates almost four times as often as minorities. Bush pardoned 189 applicants. Only seven were African American.
Craig said lawyers in the Obama administration developed plans to remove the pardons process from the Justice Department, but have not acted on them. At the state level, pardons are often handled by an independent board similar to a parole board.
FAMM supports frequent, wise, and accountable use of the pardon power -- including granting more commutations to reduce unjust and excessive mandatory minimum sentences.  Half of all federal prisoners are drug offenders; most of those are nonviolent; many are serving sentences that are far too harsh; many deserve a second look and a second chance.  A broken pardon review process doesn't help those prisoners, and it doesn't help the president do justice, either.