Friday, January 13, 2012

Pardons for Criminals??


As Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi stepped down, he issued a boatload of pardons. In his state, a full pardon is basically equivalent to saying that the underlying crime did not ever happen. Even for a convicted murderer, his rights to vote are restored. He will even be able to buy and own guns! No convicted felon is allowed to do those things normally. Even non-violent felonies like tax evasion or illegally trading stocks usually have those restrictions. But, with a Mississippi-style pardon, it is all washed away.

That got me to wondering what the rules are in Tennessee. Since I only do injury law, I had to research this a bit. According to noted Nashville attorney Nathan Moore, in Tennessee, the pardon process is lengthy and difficult. Pardon is also known as “clemency.” Reasons for seeking a pardon here can include wanting to go to school to further one's education or needing to get a professional certification. Unlike our southern neighbor, Tennessee’s pardon does not erase the conviction from a record, but it shows that forgiveness of sort granted by the state.

They are hard to obtain here as well. The Board of Probation and Parole, who is responsible for offering pardon recommendations to the governor, rejects two-thirds of pardon applications outright. The Board can have a hearing for the worthy candidates. It can make sense that a productive citizen for thirty years who had a youthful felony could be allowed to obtain a pardon and finally hunt or vote.

But, there seems to be another difference as well. While most of the pardons granted in Mississippi were for people who had long ago finished their sentence, a few were granted to murderers still actually serving in prison. Several were released! There appears to be little to no consultation with the victims’ family, many of who are frightened at the idea of their families’ murderer walking the streets when they had previously been sentenced to life in prison.

The instructions for the Tennessee pardon application lists a few bare minimum requirements: 1) five personal recommendations, 2) you must have fully completed your sentence, and 3) you must have stayed out of trouble since completing your sentence. These are, in fact, the bare minimums. Your chances are helped by the quality and quantity of your recommendations as well as your resume, so to speak, of self-betterment and community involvement. The more you can show the Board that you "deserve" the pardon, the more likely you will be successful.

Sounds like we have a very different system from Mississippi. Of that, I think we can all be pleased. I think I will stick with injury law.

Mr. Peel seeks justice for those injured in car accidents, work place incidents, medical malpractice, and nursing homes. He often addresses churches, clubs and groups without charge. Mr. Peel may be reached though wherein other articles may be accessed.