Huckabee Begs a Pardon

Monday, December 10th, 2007

I think Jeralyn Merritt gets the Huckabee pardon/clemency issue about right.

We do need a serious debate in this country about the use of the pardon power and executive clemency. It isn’t used nearly often enough, and when it is, it’s usually used for the wrong reasons. That is, it’s generally used for political patronage, or to show mercy or redemption for people who are guilty, but who have shown they’re rehabilitated. It’s rarely used for the reason the founders granted it to the president (and ostensibly, why state constitutions grant it to governors): as a check on wrongful convictions and unjust applications of the law that may have fallen through the criminal justice system. There are some governors in this country who have never issued a pardon, and have publicly said they have no plans to. President Bush has been particularly stingy with the pardon. This from a guy who seems pretty eager to exercise all manner of other presidential powers.

As Alexander Hamilton (by no means a limited government guy) explained in Federalist No. 74, justifying the pardon power: “The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel.”

Unfortunately, the only time use of the pardon or clemency power enters the presidential debate is on those rare occasions when a candidate screwed up, and showed mercy to someone who went on to commit a serious crime (in Huckabee’s case, he seems to have exerted behind-the-scenes influence to help win a sentence commutation for Wayne DuMond, who committed a rape and murder after his release), or when a candidate gets caught pardoning a crony. Huckabee deserves some scorn for using his powers for political patronage, as well as for pardoning or commuting the sentences of people who may not have deserved it, but were lucky enough to have a personal connection to him. His obfuscation about his role in the DuMond case is also regrettable.

But generally speaking, a governor’s wise but copious use of pardon and clemency powers deserves praise, not scorn. Huckabee’s frequent commutation of cruelly long drug sentences is particularly admirable, given the law-and-order proclivities of his party.

It’s typical, cynical politics that a power designed to be a check on injustice and imprisoning the innocent usually only makes the news when something goes wrong (like DuMond), or when it’s used to free suspects or convicts fortunate enough to walk in powerful circles (see Scooter Libby, or Marc Rich).

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5 Responses to “Huckabee Begs a Pardon”

  1. #1 |  Laertes | 

    A politician sticks his neck out any time he pardons a convict. If the guy goes on to convict any subsequent crime, the pol gets the blame and that’s a shame. A common cowardly subspecies of pol deals with this threat by issuing no pardons at all, ever. They then trumpet this cowardice as “toughness.”

    Had Huckabee pardoned some small-time pot dealer who got a crazy long sentence and the guy went on to commit some heinous crimes, it’d be a cheap shot to blame Huck. He had every reason to expect that he was correcting a miscarriage of justice, and no reason to expect that the guy was unusually dangerous.

    But that’s not what happened here.

    Huck released a violent sex offender, and did so because a bunch of his wingnut friends hate Bill Clinton. Any reasonable person could have forseen exactly what took place. Releasing Dumond was criminally negligent. At the very least, Huck deserves to pay a steep political price.

    NOTE: Please nobody make the lame argument that Huck didn’t release the guy and the parole board did. The record is perfectly clear on this point: Huck wanted Dumond released, and got what he wanted from people who were dependent on him for their jobs.

  2. #2 |  Michael | 

    I lived in Arkansas, at the time of the Dumond case. I think it was a TV show that pushed for his release. They claimed he was “innocent” and had been castrated by vigilantes while out of jail. Although, I have little repect for the system justice in our country, (especially little towns in Arkansas) this was set up by the media! They pushed for the release of the guy! They all claimed he was unjustly accused! It is not, all, Huckabee’s fault. You have to know how much that pains me to say, because my candidate is Ron Paul.

  3. #3 |  Tim Rowe | 

    I believe that when I hear about a politician who brags that they have never given a pardon, it only shows that they are either arrogant or they are more concerned about their political posterior than they are about their fellow man who may have been innocent of a crime or they may have been dog-piled by an over zealous prosecutor, etc. Another instance would be when someone in the criminal justice system is out of control and for whatever reason would knowingly prosecute innocent citizens such as most recently, the Duke LaCrosse rape case. Who knows what would have happened to them had it not been for their financial ability to afford good counsel. I am sure that there could be a numerous list of situations where a pardon or a reduction of sentence could be in order.

    A nine percent failure rate is relatively low compared to the majority of the programs that the government has their hand involved in. It is sad though when someone despises a wonderful opportunity to have a fresh start in life. Nevertheless, a nine percent failure rate means a ninety one percent success rate. This far outweighs any new business start-ups success rates. A failure could mean something terrible was committed but it could also be as simple as a violation of probation or any minor infraction.

    In the society to which we live in today, our founding fathers would probably have to shake their heads in shame as they believed that the justice system should be designed so that occasionally a guilty man should go free rather than an innocent man be convicted of a crime. This would include but not be limited to anyone who may have not committed the alleged crime or any other reason that one out of compassion my want to afford someone of a second chance.

    Lets face it folks, I believe that one day, we will stand before Almighty God and our entire life will be under his microscope. I also believe that we will all instantly believe in or hope for His mercy and will all be desirous of a pardon. Wouldn’t you agree?

  4. #4 |  Daniel meyers | 

    I like Huckabee. The man reviewed 8700 pardon requests, and granted 700. The media is crying about the 1 person whom he didnt’ even pardon. I’m conservative, and can accept or allow the death penalty, some people deserve it, and some times the system is wrong. The gov’t has the pardon ability for that reason. I like a politician that actually DOES HIS JOB. Hell the parole board was appointed by clinton, and they bowed to huckabee’s influence? if huckabee “i’mplied” they jump off a bridge, would they do that too?
    also they didn’t cliam this influence until 6 years later!! after they didn’t get reapointed. Or you could have romney, who failed to pardon an iraqi war veteran for shooting a kid with a bb gun as a kid, and the other kid didn’t even bleed.

  5. #5 |  Brandon McCracken | 

    Huckabee doesn’t need to be taken to task over frequent exercising of pardoning power. Much of mandatory sentencing has been so taken out of context that folks are getting sentences previously reserved for murderers and rapists. Sure, make it all about that DuMond guy! He is one person. I would bet that 99% of those pardons were for people who were incredibly deserving of a second chance. Huckabee (who I shook hands with by the way) is an extraordinarily real person. There is a reason why he got Sunday night on Fox News: you won’t meet a Christian with more conviction who survived the game they call politics!

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