Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The risks of clemency

Is granting clemency worth the controversy? I suppose that is the point of it -- one last shot of publicity for outgoing governors.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm has stirred things up over the last week by granting clemency to Matthew Makowski, convicted of first-degree murder in the robbery Makowski set up of a friend.
After the announcement, the family of the victim protested and raised some damning points about Makowski, and Granholm reversed her decision.
Now Makowski's lawyer is promising a lawsuit to get the commutation reinstated. He raises an interesting legal point: If a prisoner is pardoned, can he be unpardoned?
This was followed by Granholm's announcement this week that another convicted murderer, Thomas Cress, will be released. He was convicted of killing a teen-age girl. And while there are those who believe Cress did not commit the crime, there are others who believe he did.
Both of the commutations are controversial, so why do them?
Bridget McCormack, co-director of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan law school calls the Cress commutation "a brave decision on the part of the governor.”
And it is, if you believe as McCormack does that the man is innocent.
But I still wonder why governor's do it.
Florida's outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist pardoned Jim Morrison for an indecent exposure at a Miami concert in 1969. But that is understandable, Morrison has many fans, and even if he did expose himself at a concert, was anyone harmed? And, it really does not matter because he is dead.
More controversial is the request that outgoing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson issue a pardon for Billy the Kid. The Kid is equally famous and perhaps has some fans, but he did kill people. Why does he need a pardon? He also is very dead.
I suppose that for all of these governors, it comes down to the fact that they can pardon people convicted of crimes.
That is a mighty attractive power to have, particularly as you are stepping down from all the other powers of being a governor.
And pardons certainly do draw the spotlight.


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