Thursday, December 13, 2007

Margy Love on Bush's 2007 Holiday Pardons

Margaret Colgate Love, who served as US Pardon Attorney for seven years, comments on the recent Bush pardons as follows:

"It has been more than a year since Bush issued any post-sentence pardons so it was encouraging to see a fairly substantial batch of cases this time -- though, as in the past, most of the offenses involved were dated and minor (car theft, moonshining, teller embezzlement, letter carrier mail theft, etc.).  Most of the sentences involved probation and/or a fine, and the longest prison term was five years.  While there are a few new law drug cases, the sentences suggest that they were very minor crimes indeed. 
"Bush has now granted 142 pardons, which puts him on track to being the stingiest two-term president in U.S. history.  While he may overtake his father in absolute number of grants by the end of his term, if you compare the number of cases available for consideration in each administration, the comparative compassion quotient is not even close.  Ditto for his general housekeeping practices:  there are now over 1000 pardon cases awaiting consideration, in addition to more than 3000 commutation cases, no applications in either category having been denied in over a year.   Some applications (including those of a couple of my clients)  have been awaiting consideration since the Clinton Administration. One can only hope that he picks up the pace in his final year or he will leave a frighteningly large backlog of cases for his successor.
"If Monday's pardons were pretty thin gruel, the same cannot be said for the sentence commutation granted crack offender Michael Dewayne Short.   The President's personal intervention to reduce Short's 235-month prison sentence could be read as an indication that he too believes that crack sentences are excessively lengthy, which puts him on the side of the courts and the angels, and in opposition to Congress and his own Justice Department.  (I found it interesting that DOJ held the press release announcing the grants until after the Attorney General's Tuesday press conference, at which he reaffirmed the Department's position against making the reduction in the crack guidelines retroactive.)   I think you have to regard the timing of this grant as particularly significant, given the really minuscule number of commutations he has granted to date (three, not counting the outlier Libby).  It came just hours after the Supreme Court recognized the unjust nature of crack sentencing in Kimbrough, and just the day before the Sentencing Commission was scheduled to act on the highly politicized crack retroactivity issue.  So I would like to read it as a message to Congress from the president's bully pulpit, joining his voice to that of the judicial branch to urge comprehensive reform of these unjust laws. 
"On the other hand, the possibility that this was an entirely random act whose timing was entirely fortuitous cannot be ruled out, and the fact that Short's prison sentence was reduced by less than a year made it a pretty safe grant.  Short was a very minor player in a large conspiracy who had nothing to bargain with, and I would be willing to bet that there were other indices of low risk.  President Clinton had already commuted the sentence of one of Short's co-defendants, Derrick Curry, years before.  While the realist in me will wait to see if President Bush grants any more of the 3000 pending commutation applications before I change my view of his clemency policies, this doesn't mean I won't try to argue the symbolic importance of the Short grant wherever it would help the cause of law reform."   
Attorney Margaret Colgate Love - website.

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