Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Executive clemency

Posted By on Wed, Sep 20, 2006 at 2:56 PM



I hate being reminded of Ken Starr, the untethered and reckless spendthrift special prosecutor of all-things-Clinton.  But dadgumit! Mike Beebe and Asa Hutchinson combined have brought him smack-dab back to my weary brain!

According to the Dem-Gaz, both were just good little demagogues in replying to questions about clemency policies they would follow.  Mike said he would be judicious and sparing (as if we would expect anything less) and would consult with prosecuting attorneys after absorbing the Parole Board recommendations.  Asa said he would get 'opinions of law enforcement, crime victims and other interested parties.'

For the edification of both, I present these words from the aforementioned Kenneth Starr.  He said them recently as a member of a panel sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the Federalist Society, and the Constitution Project examining the application, morality and constitutionality of the death penalty in the U. S.  Starr talked about his experience representing two death row inmates and highlighted the importance of clemency in the fair administration of the death penalty (the underlining is mine):

[M]y own experience in recent years — in the Robin Lovitt case in Virginia . . . and in the still-unfolding Michael Morales case in California — suggest to me that governors and their advisors are tending to neglect this historic role of clemency and pardon in the system.
. . .
Michael Morales' case is illustrative of what I think is a terrible trend, abject deference to the judicial system with its inevitable flaws and a frank unwillingness on the part of virtually every governor in the country, and those who advise them, to fulfill their assigned role in our constitutional structure. This isn't just a Supreme Court admonition; it is taking note of a constitutional structural point.
. . .
And even in our bloodiest war, which pit brother against brother, Mr. Lincoln took time to review personally the files of those seeking clemency. It was part of his greatness.


123 men from 25 states have been freed from death row because they were finally able to prove their innocence.  More have been executed because they couldn't prove it in time.  In Arkansas, more men have been moved off of death row because of mistakes than have been executed.  Beyond death row, there are sentences way out of proportion to the crime, there are witness and confession errors, there are suspect interrogation methods, and there behavior patterns to study.  As Mr. Starr says, prosecutors, police, witnesses, juries and judges make mistakes.  They are not infallible, Mike and Asa.  There are cases where court procedures won't even allow presentation of evidence of innocence.  The Governor has a much bigger responsibility on clemency than either of you seems prepared to embrace.

And while I am at it: neither of you revealed any concern or awareness in the Dem-Gaz questioning or in the reports of your law enforcement endorsements of some of some of the really hard truths of contemporary criminal justice.  I couldn't be more pleased that Mike proposes more training to combat online child predators and other internet crimes.  And it's great that both have records opposing the meth horror in our society. 

But what are they going to do about the evidence recidivisim rates provide us about sexual predators?  What are they going to do about the fact that we don't know how to 'cure' these folks, and yet we sentence them in a way that almost guarantees freedom with which they will sexually assault another child or adult?   What are they going to do to protect society from them - and protect them from society - when their sentences are up?  Currently, this is a big, ghastly and dangerous mess.

And what are they going to do about the fact that jails and prisons have become our mental hospitals?  What are they going to do about training law enforcement to recognize and handle mental illness?  What are they going to do about just locking away these sick people without adequate treatment and appropriate environments?   What are they going to do about mental illness in general?  The only thing we seem to take any responsibility for regarding the mentally ill is if one of the sick ones violates the law and we can just lock him or her up!  Reminds me of the shameful and abominable ways we handled folks who contracted leprosy and AIDS in the early days!

If these guys are going to be tough on crime, they have to talk about these tough issues.


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