What gives the President the ability to pardon or commute sentences imposed on criminals?
February 1, 2017 | View PDF
Article 2, Section 2 of the Unites States Constitution says, “... and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”
This has been in the news just prior to the inauguration of Donald Trump as President and it has become common for the outgoing President to issue pardons or commutation of sentences. With the exceptions of Presidents Harrison and Garfield all Presidents have issued pardons and/ or commutations. Harrison and Garfield did not because their deaths occurred relatively early in their Presidencies. The total may not be complete on President Obama but stands as I write this under 75 pardons or commutations. There have been many famous pardons or commutations by Presidents, some occurring much later after the prisoner’s death. Among those included are President Clinton’s brother, Roger; Confederate President Jefferson Davis; President Richard Nixon and many others. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued well over three thousand pardons and commutations but then again he served more than two terms in office.
In looking at President Obama’s pardons and commutations, it has included less than ten Alabamians. It seems that the named Alabamians were listed due to drug offenses. At least two of those are from the tri-county area.
Notably not among those has been former Alabama Governor, Don Siegelman who has sought a pardon or commutation of his sentence from President Obama for some time. His charges included corruption, mail fraud and bribery linked to Richard Scrushy who served on a board and had contributed money to Siegelman campaign. Though an initial trial in 2004 was thrown out, Siegelman and Scrushy were both convicted in 2006. Siegelman was out of prison for a short time during his 2008 appeal but went back to prison upon losing the appeal. Scrushy was released in 2012 but Siegelman has remained in prison awaiting an August 2017 release (probation until August 2020).
Several months ago I began receiving emails concerning Siegelman’s efforts to get out of prison. As reported in other sources, Siegelman attorneys have reported prosecutorial misconduct among other things. I must say that he was not my choice for Governor and I did not agree with his push for a legalized lottery in Alabama. However, as Siegelman turns 71 later this month, I would like to see him released from prison soon. His retirement years have been spent not as a retired celebrity within the state but as a downtrodden former Alabama Governor, Lt Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State, treated as a common criminal and from what I have read now in very poor financial shape. His son has worked tirelessly as his attorney since his admission to the Bar just a few years ago and his daughter has probably worked even harder in drumming up support for her father’s release. There has been very compelling support for his release.
In a time when President Obama’s pardons and commutations have mostly benefitted many serving time for drug offenses, it is a shame that a fellow Democrat to Governor Siegelman has not done the same for Siegelman as he has for those convicted of significant drug offenses. I just reviewed the latest Siegelman email where he states he “is at peace with whatever Obama chooses” and he prays for others he has met that he feels are unjustly being punished I do hope that Governor Siegelman finds an outlet to rebuild his life and enjoy the remainder of his retirement years.
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