Scooting out of a criminal record 

20-plus pardons by Gov. Daniels thus far

President Bush used the power of the presidency this summer to commute the prison sentence of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was set to spend 30 months in jail for perjury and obstruction of justice. As a result, Libby will pay a fine, serve probation, but not do any jail time.

There were no fewer accusations about political nepotism and egregious pardons when Bill Clinton was handing out pardons during his two terms as president.

Whether or not either president has misused executive powers in granting pardons, Clinton was demonstrably more generous, giving out nearly 400 in his eight years of presidency to Bush’s 113 after a little more than six years.

Commutation of a criminal sentence or a full pardon for a criminal act rarely generates much publicity or controversy at the state level, except in death penalty cases. Here in Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels has granted 22 pardons over the past two years, and while none have been called egregious, there are more than a few ironies about the reprieves.

Dude, where’s my pardon?

The individuals who petition the governor of Indiana for a pardon aren’t seeking to avoid jail time; instead, most are looking to expunge their criminal records and receive a clean slate.

“He would like to be forgiven for his past mistakes and seeks a second chance through a pardon,” states the request of one pardon recipient. Similarly, another requested a pardon “in order to bring final closure to a chapter of his life that he left behind long ago.”

None of the pardons have been given to anyone who committed a violent crime involving death or injury to others. In fact, marijuana possession is the most common charge to receive a pardon from Daniels thus far in his first term.

Of the 22 pardons, five have been given to those arrested in their youth for pot and have no other criminal record. Two of the arrests occurred in the late 1960s and a third in 1975. All three petitioners have no other criminal history and asked the governor to remove this one arrest from more than 30 years ago from their criminal records.

Additionally, two others pardoned for marijuana possession were arrested a decade ago, both in 1997. One of the petitioners is now a veteran of the most recent Iraq War and the other is a college graduate pursing a real estate career near Chicago.

All five have had their pot convictions pardoned by Daniels, who is not only sympathetic to their efforts to leave a youthful indiscretion in the past, but is empathetic as well.

In 1970, Daniels was convicted of marijuana possession as a Princeton undergraduate. As he wrote in a 1989 Washington Post op-ed, “After one party too many, two friends and I ended up enjoying the hospitality of the local police for two nights.”

In addition to a couple of nights in jail, the future White House budget director and Indiana governor was fined $350 for the pot. “My young Midwestern tail was jerked back into line, where it has remained through 20 years of law-abiding, rather conventional life,” said Daniels about his own criminality.

A fresh start

The most common reason petitioners ask the governor for a pardon is to improve their employment and career opportunities. Of the petitioners, nearly all have gone on to complete higher education degrees and pursue teaching, nursing, law, public service and public safety careers, but having a criminal record can prevent them from gaining a professional license and/or being hired in particular fields.

One of those the governor pardoned in 2005 was third-year law student Ronald Blake Jr., who was convicted of robbery in 1991 and served three years in prison. In his petition, Blake stated that he wanted to pursue a career in environmental law and had “a desire to put his mistakes behind him so that he may use his abilities to benefit society.”

Ironically, Blake sued the state of Indiana as one of his first acts after passing the bar and becoming a lawyer. Blake, who now lives in Connecticut, claimed that the state was at fault for not automatically expunging his arrest record when he received his pardon, as it did his conviction record.

In January of 2007, the Marion County Superior Court ruled in Blake’s favor. The judges used the U.S. Supreme Court’s definition of a pardon and its intention in siding with Blake. “A pardon reaches both the punishment prescribed for the offen[s]e and the guilt of the offender; and when the pardon is full, it releases the punishment and blots out of existence the guilt, so that in the eye of the law the offender is as innocent as if he had never committed the offen[s]e … it makes him, as it were, a new man.”

Richard Bunce, who received his pardon in May of this year, also made his petition in order to further his career. In 1994, Bunce was convicted of arson and served two years in prison and another four years of probation.

Now, Bunce “seeks to obtain his lifelong dream of being a career firefighter,” according to his petition. In 2005, Bunce was named Firefighter of the Year by the Taylor Township Volunteer Fire Department, and he’s also received three Life Saving commendations for his work as a volunteer firefighter.

Steve Quick was one of the most recent pardon recipients, and his request attests to both his involvement in the community and his role as a father and husband.

Quick, who began working for the city under the Goldsmith Administration, was convicted of robbery in 1981. He is now, according to his petition, “a resident, homeowner and longtime employee of the City of Indianapolis, a 48-year-old married man with three children.” Quick is also the president of the AFSCME Local 725 union.

The most common denominator of the pardon petitions and those granted state forgiveness are the claims of model citizenry based on some of our most deep-seeded stereotypes about what constitutes a “good” member of the community.

Marriage and kids are good indicators that a former criminal now deserves a clean slate, according to the petitions granted by Daniels thus far, as are volunteer work, community service and church membership. Serving in the U.S. military also helps; petitioners seem to list their armed services records whenever possible as evidence of their rehabilitation.

Daniels has granted fewer pardons than his predecessors. Evan Bayh, Frank O’Bannon and Joe Kernan averaged about 20 pardons per year while in office. Daniels has given a total of 22 pardons since taking office in 2005: 11 in 2005, eight in 2006 and three thus far in 2007. Only one of the 22 pardons was granted to a woman, the rest were all male petitioners.

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