Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Politics of Commutation

Over at Sentencing Law & Policy, Doug Berman asks the musical question, "should never granting a pardon be a point of political pride?" The subject comes up in the increasingly bitter GOP primary war being fought between Mitt Romney and Mick Huckabee. As former governors, both exercised the executive power to pardon convicts or commute their sentences.

Huckabee utilized that power quite a bit and in some controversial ways. The Huckabee-pushed early parole of Wayne Dumond, a convicted rapist who committed at least one murder after his release, appears to have been motivated mostly by a desire to please the anti-Clinton right, for whom Dumond was a cause celebre (his victim was a distant relation of Bill Clinton). Others have argued that a Huckabee pardon was easier to obtain if one played to the governor's well known Baptist faith.

By contrast, Romney claims to have never pardoned anyone during his term as governor. Given Mitt's other claims, that may not be altogether accurate, but he's at least putting that out there as a plus for his campaign.

Is that a good thing? Pardons and commutations can obviously blow up in your face when the person granted release goes out and commits another crime, particularly a heinous one. And they can also be abused for political purposes, as Duhbya's commutation of Scooter Libby's sentence was earlier this year. But abuses and bad decisions shouldn't obscure the fact that more deserving folks are denied relief than granted it. And it's no better to completely deny those folks relief than be overly generous with them.

It's one of those situations where the judgment of the man or woman making the call is paramount. From what I've seen so far, I wouldn't trust either of these yahoos to make those calls as President.

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