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Pardons and acts of clemency are controversial


Four White Hall men were debating the merits of Bill Clinton over coffee the morning following the Democratic National Convention and the subject of executive clemency surfaced in their discussion.

The three men who said they didn’t admire Clinton’s eight years in the White House noted that on Jan. 20, 2001, he pardoned 140 people and issued 36 commutations in the final hours of his presidency. They contended the pardons smacked of political payoffs.

Their comments illustrated a lack of knowledge most individuals have on executive clemency. Gov. Mike Beebe on Friday announced his intent to grant four pardons. He denied 34 clemency requests and took no action on 16 others.

The four applicants intended for pardons have completed all jail time, fulfilled all parole-and-probationary requirements, paid all fines related to their sentences and have had no further criminal charges, Beebe’s office said. There is a 30-day waiting period to receive public comment on the pardons before final action is taken.

Beebe said he intends to grant pardons to individuals convicted of possession of marijuana in 2006, carrying a weapon and theft of property in 1995, criminal mischief in 2002 and possession of marijuana in 1996.

The authors of the United States Constitution gave our president a broad power to pardon criminals. The president can “grant pardons and reprieves for offences [sic] against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” This power has been interpreted by presidents and courts to include a near-absolute power to forgive past crimes, reduce the length of prison sentences, grant amnesties to a class of offenders, and place conditions on the issuance of any pardon. The president doesn’t have to wait for a conviction to issue a pardon. President Gerald Ford gave a blanket pardon to former President Richard Nixon for any crime which Nixon may have committed while in the Oval Office. Pardons and commutations of sentences have been approved by Arkansas governors since statehood. However, states, in giving a pardoning power to their governors, limit the governors’ power more than the power of the president.

Clinton pardoned Roger Clinton, his half-brother, for drug charges more than a decade after Roger had served his full sentence, and a Pine Bluff man for conspiracy to defraud a federally insured savings and loan, misapplication of bank funds and making false statements.

The Republicans remembered Clinton’s pardons of Marc Rich, a fugitive who had fled the U.S. during his prosecution and was residing in Switzerland, and his partner Pincus Green. Rich owed $48 million in taxes and was charged with 51 counts of tax fraud, was pardoned of tax evasion. As a condition of his pardon he was required to pay a $100 million dollar fine.

The Clinton haters pointed out that Denise Rich, Rich’s former wife, had made large donations to both the Clinton library at Little Rock and Hillary Clinton’s U.S. Senate campaign.

Nixon holds the record by pardoning 204 in one day on Dec.12, 1972, shortly before his term ended. Clinton issued a total of approximately 450 pardons and commutations in eight years, compared to 406 issued by President Ronald Reagan during his two terms. During his four years, President Jimmy Carter issued 566 pardons and commutations, while Ford issued 409 during the slightly more than two years he was president.

Sometimes it is necessary to figuratively hold your nose if you view clemency as distasteful and repugnant, but not illegal.

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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at fugatel@sbcglobal.net or at (870) 329-7010.