November 25, 2005
On Sept. 28, President Bush issued 14 presidential pardons -- raising
the total of pardons he has issued to 58, plus two sentence commutations.
White House spokesman Ken Lisaius noted, "The president has
now granted more at this stage in his administration than President
Clinton did at this point during his."
the quality of the Bush pardons is lacking. High numbers of prisoners
are serving time in federal penitentiaries -- more than 150,000
-- and sentences for first-time nonviolent offenders can exceed
a decade. Yet Bush has failed to put his faith where it is needed
now, I've been writing about Clarence Aaron, a first-time nonviolent
offender who, because he facilitated two large cocaine deals between
two drug dealers, was sentenced to life without parole. At age
19, Chrissy Taylor was sentenced to 19 years in prison for buying
legal drugs for her boyfriend's illegal drug operation.
commute the sentences of Aaron and Taylor so that they can become
productive members of society. I believe in being tough on crime.
I support the death penalty and long sentences for repeat offenders
and violent criminals.
I have to agree with those who argue that, barring extraordinary
circumstances, no nonviolent offender should serve more than five
years for a first offense. (And the extraordinary circumstance
should be more serious than the fact that the defendants didn't
plead guilty or provide evidence against other parties.)
such a thing as being smart about crime, and that means giving
people who screwed up a chance to turn their lives around before
they reach middle age.
the September pardons -- all issued to individuals who completed
their sentences a decade or decades ago. Adam Wade Graham served
less than one year for conspiracy to deliver 10 or more grams
of LSD -- he was sentenced in 1992. Larry Paul Lenius had been
sentenced to 36 months in 1989 for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Larry Lee Lopez was sentenced to three years probation in 1985
for conspiracy to import marijuana.
Love, who was the pardon attorney for President George H.W. Bush,
observed: "It seems to me that the list of people who were
pardoned reflects a philosophy of punishment that the federal
system seems to have abandoned. These people served reasonable
sentences, which gave them an opportunity to turn their lives
is heartened by the fact that Bush now issues pardons on a regular
basis, she hasn't seen Bush redress federal sentencing outrages,
or make any heroic decisions: "The ones who are making it
are so uniformly unremarkable that it makes you wonder what principle
of selection is at work here."
you get the feeling that the Bushies have read the criticisms
of Bush's stinginess with the pardon and responded by issuing
more pardons, but for the least urgent cases. Critics noted Bush
had commuted no sentences, so Bush commuted two sentences. Editorials
compared the Bush record to that of his father and President Clinton
-- so Dubya squeaks past the Clinton record of 56 pardons and
commutations in his first five years. It's as if the administration
doesn't want to be criticized for meting out too little mercy
-- so it throws mercy where it is least needed.
last year, Bush pardoned a man convicted of food stamp fraud in
1994 -- who had died the year before. In his 2004 State of the
Union speech, Bush proposed a program to help released inmates
find jobs and establish lives that work within the law. Bush noted,
"America is the land of the second chance -- and when the
gates of prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life."
Aaron has served more than a decade for a first-time nonviolent
offense -- and all he has to look forward to is spending the rest
of his life behind bars. Personally, I don't think Aaron would
face a future without freedom if he were white, not black.
person who can give Aaron a second chance is President Bush. The
good news is that Aaron's petition is still pending -- it has
not been rejected. The bad news is that Bush has the power to
grant mercy and a second chance to Aaron and others like him --
but he is afraid to use it.
2005 Creators Syndicate