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On June 6th 2018, Kim Kardashian West, wife to right-winged pundit and African American rapper Kanye West met president Trump in the Oval office and urged him to offer clemency to one Alice Marie Johnson. Convicted in 1996, for her involvement in Memphis cocaine tariffing organization with links to a Colombian drug dealer based in Texas. Besides a drug conspiracy count she was convicted of money laundering and structuring. Her bid for clemency was filed under president’s Obama’s tenure, but was denied shortly before he left office in 2017; a campaign to drum up support for release was launched by the American Civil Liberties Union. Besides Kim West, a number of lobby groups and civil rights activists, and US representatives Steve Cohen, Bennie Thompson, law professors Shon Hopwood also threw their weight behind her 2014 appeal (Garcia). The proponents of her release argued that the sentence was excessive and typified the disproportionate impacts on African Americans under the American judicial system. On June 6th 2008, following Kardashians appeal, Trump granted clemency to the sixty-three-year-old mother of five, in the high profile commutation. The Washington post’s observers through the daily described the pardon as surprising given Trump’s past sentiments on drug dealers and the black community with the latest reminder being Charlottesville’s controversial rhetoric (Post). This discourse evaluates clemency as defined Article II of the US constitution, the paper further discerns the two types of reprieves; clemency and pardons. Lastly the paper in a bid to answer the underlying question affirms the clemency as a fair and pertinent sentencing reform integral in improving public safety, averting run away incarceration costs and re-aligning the judicial system towards fairness.
The Clemency Process
To begin with, petitioners receive either a pardon or a commutation of sentence, each of which is a type of executive clemency with varied legal implication. However, released offenders are still likely to face collateral consequences, that is post sentence civil penalties and other pertinent disqualifications that flow from a federal conviction. On the other hand, a pardon is the President’s forgiveness for committing the offense, subsequently, all civil disabilities and collateral consequences are disbanded. In addition, a returning citizen may also petition a court to seal or expunge a record of arrest for which there was no conviction, or a conviction, however it is worth noting that this is not a form of clemency but a precursor to aid re-entry of the persons returning from incarceration (Espeut). Recent example of the process at play is the Department of Justice as part reforms in criminal justice system under 2014 clemency project. In 2014, the State Department announced a clemency initiative to prioritize the application of federal inmates seeking a commutation of sentence. A commutation of sentence often results in a reduced sentence, either totally or partially.
Clemency in the United States Criminal Justice System and role in Social order (context)
With more than 2.2 million people behind bars, America is faced with vicious cycle of criminality, poverty, and incarcerations that traps too many civilians and weakens the social fabric of many communities notably African Americans and Hispanic whites. With less than 5 percent of the world’s population America has a quarter of the world prisoners, it perhaps contradicts the notion of the ‘Free World’ as evidently a bulk of its population is in bondage, the US incarceration stands at 716 per 100,000 of the national population (Papa). Besides social fragmentation, keeping so many people locked up comes at a cost, and an estimated $80 billion is the annual budgetary allocation to the prisons, jails, probations, parole cost in America. Such a high recurrent expenditure might have more public benefit if directed to more pressing and economic justified national agendas in the US as Universal healthcare coverage. The series of Judicial reforms initiated under Obama’s administration to enhance fairness and efficiency at all phases of the judicial system that feasibly culminated in his signing of the Fair Sentencing Act.
President’s Donald Trumps, high profile commutation was one of the 16,766 filed under Obamas administration in 2014 clemency project is an executive provision. Article II of the US Constitution vests the president with the power ‘to Grant Reprieve and Pardon for Offenses against the United States, except in cases of Impeachment. The presidents pardon power, which derives from English customs are reminiscent of the Roman emperor’s roles in judicial interventions; but with constitutional checks and balances as the president’s clemency authority is limited to criminal offense and does not include civil penalties. Moreover, he may only use his clemency authority to pardon federal offenses, but not state violations. This extraordinary remedy to doing time is sought by dozens annually but only materializes for a few applicants.
For the United States as a nation founded on ideals of liberty, clemency offers an opportunity for meaningful sentencing reforms. In addition, liberal leniency as defined by the Sections II of the American constitution offers an opportunity to enhance fairness and efficiency at all phases of the criminal justice system. Thirdly it is an apt route to overturn unfair convictions and further those that might be instigated by racial prejudice. As a former Assistant US Attorney and criminal defense lawyer ‘unfair’ convictions are typified by incidences where the punishment required by law far exceeded the offense as typified by Alice Marie Johnson’s case. Consequently, clemency can effectively remedy such convictions effectively decongesting the nations correction facilities besides debugging the inflating administration costs of correctional facilities on federal and states budgets. Trumps, commutation of sentence for Alice was effective immediately as had been the case with all four commutations of the 45th administration, none the less the constitutional provision can still be grossly misused and hence rendered partial as typified by Trump’s use of clemency of an ad hoc basis. Less than one year after being by a U.S District Court Judge, President Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio for his conviction for criminal contempt of court in August 2017. The President did not consult with the U.S department of Justice or the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
In conclusion, a detailed review of the Obama’s administration’s clemency program of 2014 by NYU Law school affirms the project as successfully having granted clemency to more individuals than all his 7 immediate predecessors combined. His efforts have certainly saved taxpayer’s resources that were otherwise put in to more prudent use. Moreover, the social impact cannot be quantified, however, mending a fragmented society has far reaching implications on the health and well- being of the American populace as families are re-united through successful clemency appeals and subsequent re-entry programs. Lastly, the constitutional provision as exemplified by Obama’s administration was a political tool and key effective in correcting existent and perceived historical injustices against the African American community. This dissertation evaluated clemency as defined Article II of the US constitution, the task further using examples distinguished between the two types of reprieves commutations and pardons. Lastly the paper in a bid to answer the underlying question upholds clemency as a fair and pertinent provision the constitution, integral in improving public safety, averting run away incarceration costs and re-aligning the judicial system towards fairness.
Clemency Denied (Judged and Found Wanting Book. Kristi Sinclair. Chicago: Adventure Work Press, 2017.
Espeut, CeCe. The Florida Clemency Guide: Do You or a Loved One Need to Have Your Criminal Record Sealed, Expunged or Pardoned. Florida: Indo River Publishing, 2017. Print.
Garcia, Reggie. How To Leave Prison Early: Florida Clemency, Parole and Work Release. Florida: Laurenzana Press, 2015. Print.
Komarovsky, Mirra. The Unemployed Man and His Family: Effects of Unemployment Upon the Status of the Man in Fifty- Nine Families . kiev: AltaMira Press, 2014.
Marino, Gordon. Ethics: The Esential Writings. Chicago: Modern Library, 2010.
Munts, Raymond. Work Disincentive Effects of Unemployment Insuarance. Chicago: W E Upjohn Inst For, 2006.
Papa, Anthony. This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency. New York: Pearson, 2016. Print.
Post, Washington. The Cost of Clemency: The lives of 46 former prisoners whose sentences were commuted by President Obama . Washington: The Washington Post , 2017. Print.
Richardson, Simone R. Executive Clemency by Pardon: A Guide to Pardon Success. Indiana: iUniverse, 2013. Print.
Smith, Zachary A. Smith's Guide to Executive Clemency for State and Federal Prisoners. Oregon: Redbat books, 2014. Print.
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