Washington, DC (March 2, 2011) -- Meaningful post-conviction review would go a long way toward eliminating the need for pardons and commutations based on injustice in the criminal system, according to the board of directors of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
A resolution passed by the NACDL board at its annual mid-winter meeting in Las Vegas this past weekend says that the pardon power of the president and state governors " . . . is an essential safety valve to correct and relieve injustice . . . and should not be amended or abolished."
And although the recent pardons and commutations by President Clinton appear to highlight the correlation between money, or political access, and success in criminal cases, we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater.
"Exercise of the pardon power favors the wealthy and politically connected, and that's no surprise," said Edward Mallett, president of NACDL. "But wrongful convictions and unjust sentences happen much more often to the poor. The fallout of the pardon discussion ought to be more access to post-conviction review. True American justice should provide serious consideration of more merit-based pardons and commutations, unrelated to wealth or connections."
President Clinton also commuted the sentence of a number of persons imprisoned for large amounts of time due to mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases, and that's a good thing, Mallett said. "When a woman is spending more time in prison than her drug dealer boyfriend whom she helped out, who in turn got off light because the government rewarded him for ratting her out, a pardon is a good, fair thing--and the only avenue for relief."
NACDL's board resolution regarding the power to pardon follows, and can be found on NACDL's Web site at www.nacdl.org.
Edward Mallett is a criminal defense lawyer in Houston. He can be reached at (713) 228-1521 or (713) 444-8146.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.