09 August 2007

State Pardons

Republican Governor Ted Kulongoski of Oregon has granted six pardons in the past 4 1/2 years. There have been 301 appplications. His predecessors in office also granted only a small number of pardons:

In his eight years in office, Democrat John Kitzhaber was less lenient, granting only four of 528 applications—less than 1 percent. But Democrat Barbara Roberts, in her single four-year term, gave pardons to 16 out of 177 applicants—over 8 percent[.]

In addition to the six pardons:

Kulongoski has also commuted two sentences, both affected by Measure 11 [which instituted mandatory sentencing for violent offenders and was sponsored by the Governor] for crimes committed by minors:

David Gene Thomas robbed a corner grocery when he was 17. He was incarcerated until Kulongoski commuted his sentence June 3, 2005, two days before his 25th birthday.

Samihe Damian Zarif was convicted of second-degree robbery at age 15. Kulongoski commuted his sentence Oct. 10, 2003, five months before his 70-month sentence was to end, when Zarif was 20.

Who got the six pardons?

Four of the six are immigrant women who have lived in the state 20-plus years. They are people who, after a relatively minor infraction of the law, faced the threat of deportation to their native countries—or, if traveling abroad to visit family, the likelihood they would not be allowed back into the country each had called home for most of their lives.

One was convicted in 1991 of delivering cocaine. She "was 24, homeless and spoke no English when she accepted an offer to stay at a stranger's house fresh after arriving in Eugene from Mexico. The trouble started when her hosts got a delivery of cocaine. 'The woman who rented the residence was pregnant and did not get around easily,' Morales wrote in her pardon application. 'I offered to go outside and retrieve the drugs for her.' Morales retrieved them from an undercover cop and was arrested. She received probation. Then, in 2001, Morales was mistakenly arrested and charged with possession and intent to deliver meth until her attorney got a video of the drug deal that showed Morales wasn't involved. But even though the charges were dismissed, immigration began deportation proceedings against her and her three daughters based on the 1991 conviction."

A second involved "a 45-year-old native Norwegian, was detained at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for three weeks in 2003 on her way back to Oregon from Norway. Deportation proceedings began against her after authorities realized she had a 10-year-old drug conviction, when she and her husband were busted with six pot plants. Rein's case stirred The Oregonian's editorial page to implore Kulongoski to keep 'this Oregonian wife and mother in Oregon.'"

The third woman, who was "31, fled Guatemala to Northeast Portland with her family at the age of 6. In 1991, at age 20, she was arrested after trying to steal some clothes from Meier & Frank and some sausages and a video of The Usual Suspects from Cub Foods in Tigard, among other items totaling about $75. When immigration officials began efforts to deport her, they called the attempted thefts 'crimes of moral turpitude.' [She] turned to the pardon process, saying in her application that she had endured years of sexual abuse from family members before the attempted thefts."

The last woman "wanted to go home to Wales to visit her elderly parents," but she knew that she would not be able to return because she was convicted of growing more than 100 marijuana plants in 1987, and was granted a pardon after multiple attempts when "[h]er parents, both in their 80s, were ailing," almost 50 letters of support poured into the governor's office from friends and family of 'Fliss.'"

Two more pardons were granted to native Oregonians:

After repeated applications, one pardon was granted to a woman who

was newly divorced and trying to care for her daughter and dying 92-year-old grandmother. Slowly becoming buried in debt, she couldn't secure the higher-paying legal jobs she was trained for due to her [1989 meth conviction].

The last was a man who had a drug conviction in 1986. He was well connected and barred by law from having a video poker machine in his bar because of his prior conviction. It turns out that a rules change adopted 14 months before he got the pardon would have allowed him to have a video poker machine anyway.

The linked article also sums up data from other Pacific states:

In Washington, former Gov. Gary Locke pardoned 56 people during his tenure between 1997 and 2005. Current Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has pardoned 11 people in her 2 1/2 years in office. Washington doesn't have statistics for how many applications each governor received.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in office just under four years, has pardoned four people out of what his press office estimates are thousands of applicants.

Personally, I favor statutory, more or less automatic relief from all state and federal collateral effects of criminal convictions for ex-felons who have been crime free for an extended period on the order of ten years or so after incarceration has ended, which are the kind of cases that make up the bulk of executive pardons. This would refocus attention on the cases that matter most, which are questionable convictions, excessive judicial sentences, and true hardship situations for people with relatively recent convictions.

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