President Obama has issued his first pardons. Nine people convicted of minor offenses were given access to the president's unchecked power of mercy. Dan Froomkin of HuffPost correctly characterized this paltry list:
Far from sending a message about the excesses and errors of the judicial system, Obama picked minor and sometimes ancient offenses -- such as a 1963 conviction for "mutilation of coins" -- to forgive. He also chose not to commute any sentences at all. P.S. Ruckman Jr., the editor of the Pardon Power blog and a political science professor in Illinois, told HuffPost he was struck by the minor nature of the crimes that Obama selected.
"Six out of the nine pardons are for people who didn't even go to prison," he said.
So that makes Obama 9 for 140 on pardon requests, and 0 for 1,157 on commutation requests.
Mercy, mercy me. Things aint what they used to be.
Many of the commenters in my last diary on this subject mistakenly believed President Obama was simply following presidential tradition by not issuing any pardons in his first year. A study from a conservative legal think tank, demolishes this myth:
Until 1980, each president granted well over a hundred post-sentence pardons and sentence commutations almost every year, without fanfare or scandal. Grants were issued almost every month for much of this period, evidence that pardoning was considered part of the ordinary housekeeping work of the Presidency, not something reserved for holidays or departure from office. The percentage of clemency petitions acted on favorably remained high, approaching or exceeding 30% in every administration until President Jimmy Carter’s. While it would be naive to suggest that special pleading outside of regular channels never entered into a decision to pardon or commute a sentence, irregular grants rarely gave rise to controversy as long as ordinary people were perceived to have access to the president’s mercy.
Furthermore, data from the Pardon Office says otherwise. As you read through the hundreds of pardons granted by presidents in first years, off years, and election years (Nixon - 235 pardons in '72!, Reagan - 83 pardons in '82), you'll note how the zeros begin to pile up after Bush Sr. Think "war on crime." The most merciful president on a per annum basis? No surprise, it's FDR.
President Obama is well on his way to rivaling George W. Bush as one of the least merciful presidents of all time. He is stingy with pardons and worse with commutations. These nine lightweight pardons wont change that.
List below the fold.
(Correction: I mistakenly called the ACS a conservative institution. A reader from Harvard Law School notes:
Hate to nit-pick, but for the record, the American Constitution Society, whom you characterized as a conservative think tank, is very much a liberal institution. Trust me, I'm a member. ACS is essentially the liberal response to the Federalist Society.
I stand corrected!)
James Bernard Banks - Liberty, Utah Offense: Illegal possession of government property; 18 U.S.C. § 641. Sentence: Oct. 31, 1972; District of Utah; two years of probation.
• Russell James Dixon - Clayton, Ga.
Offense: Felony liquor law violation; 26 U.S.C. § 5604(a)(1).
Sentence: June 23, 1960; Northern District of Georgia; two years of probation.
• Laurens Dorsey - Syracuse, N.Y.
Offense: Conspiracy to defraud the United States by making false statements to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; 18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1001.
Sentence: Aug. 31, 1998; District of New Jersey; five years of probation and $71,000 restitution.
• Ronald Lee Foster - Beaver Falls, Penn.
Offense: Mutilation of coins; 18 U.S.C. § 331.
Sentence: Oct. 4, 1963; Eastern District of North Carolina; one year of probation and $20 fine.
• Timothy James Gallagher - Navasota, Texas
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine; 21 U.S.C. § 846.
Sentence: Oct. 18, 1982; District of Arizona; three years of probation.
• Roxane Kay Hettinger - Powder Springs, Ga.
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute cocaine; 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846.
Sentence: March 31, 1986; Northern District of Iowa; 30 days in jail followed by three years of probation.
• Edgar Leopold Kranz Jr. - Minot, N.D.
Offense: Wrongful use of cocaine, adultery and writing three insufficient fund checks; Articles 112a and 134, Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Sentence: Sept. 14, 1994, as approved Nov. 4, 1994; General court-martial convened at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii; bad conduct discharge (suspended), 24 months of confinement and reduction to pay grade E-1.
• Floretta Leavy - Rockford, Ill.
Offense: Distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute; 21 U.S. C. §§ 841(a)(1), (a)(2) and 846, 18 U.S.C. § 2.
Sentence: Oct. 19, 1984; District of Kansas; one year and one day in prison and three years of special parole.
• Scoey Lathaniel Morris - Crosby, Texas
Offense: Passing counterfeit obligations or securities; 18 U.S.C. §§ 472 and 2.
Sentence: May 21, 1999; Western District of Texas; three years of probation and $1,200 restitution, jointly and severally.