Middle Finger Pardons, can We the People Stop Them?

Any president or governor granting a pardon to someone undeserving of forgiveness for the crime he or she was convicted of committing is giving the middle finger to victims of violent crimes, our criminal justice system, and our founding fathers.

Clemency is the most powerful tool in our criminal justice system, and it serves a great purpose in our often-challenging justice system. Unfortunately, throughout the history of this nation, presidents and governors have shown little to no respect for the power of clemency; by using it as merely a perk of their position to wipe away the criminal acts of their friends, relatives, and associates.

Under current federal and state laws, there is very little if anything that can be done to stop such abuse for various reasons; chiefly, politicians will never agree to give up power. But we as a nation should wake up and address the fact, Patrick Henry was right to oppose giving this power to the president.

Statesmen Charles Pinckney, and South Carolina lawyer, included pardons in his proposed list of presidential powers at the 1787 Convention. Founding father Alexander Hamilton defended this presidential power at that Convention.

However, Patrick Henry, also a founding father, who famously was quoted in a 1775 speech before the Virginia legislature, “Give me liberty or give me death!” was at that important 1787 Convention debating against the ratification of the Constitution. He also took issue with the president having the power to pardon. He rightly warned that presidents could misuse the power to pardon for federal crimes.

April 2019 The Washington Post reminded us again of Henry’s warning due to President Donald Trump’s hints of, middle finger pardons for his most loyal cronies while being investigated by special prosecutor Robert Mueller for his successful but suspicious campaign to become our 45th president.

On a state level, former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s issued over 600 pardons and commutations on his last day in office. Many Kentuckians viewed one such pardon as giving the middle finger to the nine-year-old rape victim and her family when the former governor granted the girl’s rapist a pardon. Even the FBI has stepped in to investigate other highly questionable and suspicious pardons by this bitter and vengeful ousted Kentucky governor.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted the manslaughter sentence of Esteban Nuñez, the son of an ally, former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez. Schwarzenegger’s caviler reason: a favor to his “friend.” The killing happened in 2008. Nuñez was sentenced to 16 years in 2010 and released in 2016.

Would a panel of five pre-screened citizens selected at random from the same county that sent this young man to prison been as cavalier to the young Esteban who bragged that his father would take care of it?

In 2007, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, and former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, joked around before a legislative group portrait session. (Rich Pedroncelli, File / AP Photo)

Compare the commutation of Nuñez with that of Richard Rosario. It took 20 years of appeals to allow Rosario to have the opportunity to have his 13 alibi witnesses speak up, which led to his release also in the year 2016.

Would a panel of five pre-screened citizens selected at random from the same jurisdiction that sent Rosario to prison take 20 years to hear 13 people tell the true story that the convicted man was not even in the State of New York at the time of the murder? This process should take no more than 20 days if we used the power of clemency wisely if an overzealous prosecutor refused to open his or her eyes first.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee reduced the sentence of 108 years to Maurice Clemmons, which made him eligible for early release. Clemmons went on to continue a life of crime, which included killing four police officers.

Would a panel of five pre-screened citizens selected at random from the same jurisdiction that sent Clemmons to prison overlook a 108-year sentence of a violent man after tapping into their common sense? Unless Mr. Clemmons escaped the old-fashioned way (prison break), he and four police officers might still be alive. No clemency panel would have reduced his sentence by one day.

Suppose a well-known person recently imprisoned for a well-deserved life sentence with a net worth of $14 billion had connections to a corrupt U.S. President. Under the present Department of Justice “Office of the Pardon Attorney” rules, this inmate’s executive clemency application could magically move to the top of a list that has a backlog of some 3000 legitimate requests. This inmate could be granted what I call a middle finger pardon by a corrupt president on his or her last day in office.

There is a difference between federal and state pardon powers. The president cannot pardon for a state crime, and no governor can pardon for a federal crime. Current state and federal pardon protocols have major holes where justice falls through those holes. A forward-thinking America can do more than patchwork on those holes. We the people can create a pardon system for both state and federal clemency.

There are too many overlooked innocent people locked up and countless non-violent prisoners deserving of a pardon currently being pushed to the back of the line if not totally ignored so that presidents and governors can misuse their Constitutional pardon powers.

Organizations like The Innocence Project working to exonerate the innocent have done great work in helping the wrongfully incarcerated. But too many of these cases take 10, 20 or 30 years of appeals with the innocent still behind bars. 21st century DNA technology used in a new clemency process could reduce the time to gain these individuals justice down to 10, 20 or 30 days.

Why, after 233 years of warnings, does this nation still cling to the belief that the power to pardon is best left in the control of elected executive branch officials who have demonstrated such a propensity to treat this powerful tool of justice as nothing more than a perk?

I can imagine the founding fathers had a person like Pat Nolan in mind when they determined it was a good idea to give the president the power to pardon for federal crimes. When President Trump pardoned Nolan, the White House issued a statement that I except as a good reason to grant a person a pardon for their crime.

However, to juxtapose President Trump’s pardon of Nolan, with another Trump pardon; the pardon of Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher suggests a middle finger pardon against our military by the President of the United States. With so many of Gallagher’s fellow soldiers who told of horrifying stories they witnessed of the conduct of their commander to be ignored by the president is the strongest bit of evidence that suggests our current president does not respect even the spirit of the power to pardon.

But the lack of respect for the power to pardon can be attributed to many presidents, which is a reason to at least reexamine this presidential power by Congress.

Now I am not dumb enough to think Congress will act to amend our Constitution as it relates to presidential pardons in the next 233 years. However, I am not one to think nothing can’t be done to replace the broken power to pardon process on a state level.

Therefore, I have begun educating anyone willing to listen to the fact; we can safely change the Constitution in my state of California, with the goal: POWER TO THE PEOPLE TO PARDON PEOPLE!

Follow my mission at Californiaclemency.org

1983 to 1993 Bible Study teacher at SF juvenile hall. Currently prison reform activist and author of Case Game - Activating the Activist; an autobiography.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store