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Law of the West

by John Scorsine
Peyton, Colo.

Recently, President Bush did something, well, presidential. No, he didn’t resolve the conflict in the Middle East nor did he end poverty or illiteracy. Rather, he issued a pardon to a convicted felon. Presidents have issued pardons in the past, it is a power granted them under the Constitution. In recent times it has seemed to become a mainstay of the transition in office protocol … send off the records to the new presidential library, give a good-bye speech to the household staff, and sign a bunch of pardons for well-connected, politically savvy, and wealthy recipients. But, in this case it wasn’t the end of the term of office nor was the recipient a wealthy, influential, politico. The President pardoned a Georgia man, who in the 1960s was a moonshiner. Later, Randall Leece Deal was in the 1972 movie “Deliverance” and most recently the 66-year-old man is an employee of the local sheriff’s office. It makes one wonder, if you have a conviction, or know someone who does, how do you get a pardon?

A pardon in its true form is a forgiveness of a criminal act. Generally, a pardon must be accepted by the offender and as such acceptance is a form of an admission of guilt. Because of the implied admission, some folks who are offered pardons or clemency (the reduction of a sentence after conviction) will decline them.

The power to pardon is generally held by the sovereign. In lieu of a king, that power in the United States is held by the President as to federal crimes and offenses. The governors of most states have the ability to issue pardons for the violation of state law. Pardons are granted anytime after the commission of the offense … they can’t be given prospectively. In some rare cases, a pardon will be given before anyone has been charged with a criminal offense. Yet, the standard pardon is issued after a criminal has fulfilled his sentence and has been leading a law-abiding life for a significant period of time.

In Colorado, the power to issue a pardon is a two step process. Governor Owens has granted seven pardons up to the first of this year. Each was recommended to him by the State Clemency Board, a seven person panel. Each pardon grants or restores all the rights and obligations of citizenship to a former offender. In 2005, the Board reviewed some 200 applications.

Nebraska has a Pardon Board created under its Constitution. The Board consists of three members: the Governor, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General. It meets quarterly to consider applications for pardons and clemency. The Board has a very informative Web site and even posts its agenda for upcoming pardon considerations. You can find the site at http://www.pardons.state.ne.us/index_html.

Wyoming has a split process. If all you seek is a restoration of your right to vote, and you are a first time non-violent felony offender, you make your application to the Board of Parole. If you don’t qualify for that treatment, or seek the restoration of the balance of your rights of citizenship, then you must apply to the governor. Since 1995, there have only been two pardons and 10 gubernatorial restorations of civil rights.

Aside from pardons, there is also the power of clemency or to reduce a sentence. There is a great resource on the Web to research clemency requirements of the various states. Run by the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation they are a 501(c) non-profit organization with the goal of providing public education about the criminal justice system. They emphasize the debate surrounding drug policy reform. You can research every state’s clemency system at http://www.cjpf.org/clemency/clemencystates.html.

The information provided in this column is based upon general principles of law and should not be relied upon in any manner. It is not the intent of this column, its author, publisher or the Fence Post to provide legal advice to any person. You should address specific legal questions to your family lawyer. In Wyoming, the State Bar can refer you to competent lawyers in your community by calling (307) 634-7823. In Colorado, call the Metropolitan Lawyer Referral Service at (303) 831-8000. Readers in Nebraska can receive referrals from the State Bar Association by calling 1-800-742-3005.


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