Friday, January 11, 2013

Another Call for More Clemency

Over at The Nation, penology writer and expert Sasha Abramsky asks why President Obama has not granted more commutations (sentence reductions) and pardons (restoration of rights) to federal prisoners and ex-prisoners.

Abramsky raises some important and disturbing points:  President Obama's pardoning record doesn't match up with his rhetoric about crime, the lack of clemency may not be entirely his fault, and ultimately, what we need is permanent legislative changes to our unjust sentencing laws.
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 [Salt Lake City mayor and civil rights lawyer Rocky] 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.”
On January 5, The New York Times ran an editorial calling on the president to exercise his pardon power—while also pointing out that the Justice Department, too, “has undermined the process with huge backlogs and delays, and sometimes views pardons as an affront to federal efforts to fight crime.” The Times also blamed Ronald Rodgers, the lawyer who runs the Office of the Pardon Attorney and has obstructed the process, and argued that his office should be replaced with “a new bipartisan commission under the White House’s aegis, giving it ample resources and real independence.”
In the long run, when it comes to preventing future unjust sentences like the one given [Weldon] 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.

1 Comment:

Janey said...

I sent the President a letter asking for a pardon for my friend, who received a Life without the possibility of Parole and this is what I received back:

12:18 PM (8 hours ago)

WH 12202012-35

Dear Ms. Jane Strauss:

This is in response to your e-mail to President Obama of December 16, 2012 requesting executive clemency for Mr. George Martorano, who is currently confined at Coleman Federal Correctional Institution.

Mr. Martorano's previous application for commutation (reduction) of sentence was carefully considered in this Department and the White House, and the decision was reached that favorable action was not warranted. His application was therefore denied on November 24, 2008. Mr. Martorano is currently eligible to submit a new petition for commutation of sentence, if he chooses to do so. Forms to use to apply for commutation are generally available at federal correctional institutions, and his caseworker can advise him as to the procedure for applying. If he has difficulty locating a form, he may contact this office to obtain one. Forms are also available on our website,

You should be aware that commutation of sentence is an extraordinary remedy that is very rarely granted. However, all petitions are carefully considered.

Thank you for writing to the President.


Office of the Pardon Attorney