Reporting Jason DeRusha
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With the raging controversy over the last-minute pardons of nearly 200 Mississippi convicted criminals, some are calling for an end to the practice of Governors being able to wipe the record clean of the worst criminals.
So, what’s the point of pardons and how are pardons done in Minnesota?
Mississippi’s Gov. Haley Barbour wiped clean the records, or cut short the sentences, of nearly 200 prisoners, including convicted murderers and rapists. A judge has put on hold the release of 21 inmates who are currently in prison.
“I’d like to talk to the governor and ask him why he did so many, what he was thinking,” said Joe Daly, a professor at Hamline University School of Law.
A Mississippi-style last-minute granting of pardons couldn’t happen in Minnesota.
“The governor on his own does not have that authority,” said Daly.
The state’s original constitution set up a Pardon Board which includes the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Attorney General.
The board meets twice a year, and has to have unanimous agreement in order for a pardon to be granted.
Under the statute, a full pardon could be granted, where an inmate would be released from prison or jail early and have his or her conviction wiped clean. Or the board could commute a sentence, and keep the conviction on the record. Neither of those is common.
Instead, the board can issue a Pardon Extraordinary: where someone who has served his or her complete sentence asks for a pardon at least 5 years after the end of the sentence.
It’s different from Presidential pardons where one guy has all the power. Ronald Reagan pardoned George Steinbrenner. Bill Clinton pardoned his brother, Roger. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, before he was even indicted.
“That was President Ford deciding we gotta get on with this and move this country forward,” said Daly.
All but two presidents have issued pardons. President Barack Obama has also issued at least 18 pardons so far into his term.
“The idea of mercy, clemency, forgiveness,” is part of our concept of justice, according to Daly. “That ultimately every human being has some potential.”
Last year, the Board granted pardons extraordinary to17 people. In 2009, just 10 were granted those pardons; in 2008 the number was 24.
“These are really tough calls,” said Daly.
In Minnesota, in recent years, the Board of Pardons has decided to not grant pardons for crimes that involved a gun. So, it’s essentially impossible to be pardoned for committing murder.
Pardons have been a part of the legal system in the United States since the first U.S. Constitution, although it was controversial even then. Some of the Founding Fathers remembered how the King abused his power to pardon.
According to the state Pardon Board, they get 100 to 150 application requests every year. About 50 to 70 of those applications are actually submitted, as they steer people away in the process if they’re not likely to be granted a pardon.