More Presidential Pardons for People, Please

Hey, if Peas and Carrots can get a presidential pardon how about the thousands of Americans waiting in line for similar consideration?

We recently saw the traditional – some might call it corny and meaningless – spectacle of the President pretending to pardon rotund turkeys to insure they don’t wind up on someone’s Thanksgiving table. Meantime, pending petitions for a pardon – or even a commutation – pile up  at the Department of Justice.

A quick pause here for a definition check. A pardon wipes away a person’s conviction so they no longer have a prison record. If they are behind bars, they walk free. If they are already out, they have the burden of conviction lifted. By contrast, a commutation allows the prisoner to go free on time served but keeps their conviction intact.

Back to my question. Why do we celebrate the annual presidential pardon for fowl and make the procedure for human beings so complicated?

Peas and Carrots Got the Annual Pardon – But the Process for Humans Isn’t Fair!

Mine is not an original thought. Former federal prosecutor and law professor Mark Osler has been writing about this for years. Most recently he penned an article about the contrasts in process.

Ironically, pardoning a turkey, Osler wrote, is a fair and well-thought out practice. First, it’s timed to be an annual event not a willy-nilly occurrence. Second, the process is overseen by an expert, in this case the chairman of the National Turkey Federation. Third, specific selection criteria is followed. As Osler writes, “the finalists are selected based on their willingness to be handled,” among other things. And, finally, “attention is paid to make sure they thrive after their grant of clemency.”

Now, let’s contrast that with the way a human being seeking presidential clemency is handled. After a pardon or commutation petition is filed it could take years for the convict to get an answer. And their filing is not studied or considered by an independent expert, it goes back through the very office that convicted them – the Department of Justice – and lands on the desk of civil servants who have lots of other responsibilities.  As professor Osler puts it, the system is “run largely by biased generalists, devoid of consistent, meaningful criteria, and it does little to ensure success of individuals after their release.”

Grants of clemency, either pardons or commutations, also seem to have little to do with fairness.  Some prisoners who were unjustly convicted or those serving extreme sentences that don’t match the offenses, are left on the sidelines with no one to represent them to the powers that be. Yet history shows some of the most notorious have elbowed their way to the top of the list and are handed that prized second chance outside prison.

In 1971, Richard Nixon pardoned corrupt Teamster’s chief Jimmy Hoffa. President Gerald Ford then pardoned Nixon in 1974 although the disgraced president had never actually been charged with a crime.  In 1999, President Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 16 members of FALN a violent Puerto Rican terror group that detonated 120 deadly bombs across America. One of the 16 FALN members, terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera, refused the offer and the condition that he denounce violence.  But on President Barak Obama’s last day in office, January 20, 2017, Lopez Rivera got a presidential commutation of his sentence with no conditions attached. In another controversial pardon that day Obama awarded clemency to Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning who had served just seven years of a 35-year sentence for passing national security secrets to WikiLeaks.

Pres. Trump Granted Johnson Clemency (at right with her daughter) in June 2018

More recently, TV personality Kim Kardashian West took the plight of Alice Marie Johnson, 63, straight to the White House after learning about Johnson’s first time,  nonviolent drug conviction more than 21 years ago. President Trump was told about Johnson’s life- without-parole sentence, her low-level involvement in a Memphis cocaine ring and that the co-defendants who testified against her got sentences of just 10 years or even probation.  President Trump commuted her sentence and last June,  after almost 22 years in prison, the mother of five was allowed to returned to her family.

It doesn’t seem fair that high level labor union lobbyists (as in the Hoffa case), liberal politicians and Broadway stars (as in the Lopez Rivera case) or first amendment and Amnesty International types (as in the Manning case) get to push to the front of the presidential clemency line. Not even if the convict is deserving of early release (as in the Johnson case.)

So far, President Trump has granted 7 pardons and 4 commutations, more than any of his recent predecessors during their first two years in office. But he has concentrated only on high-profile cases brought to him by family and associates.  If the goal is to truly make America Great Again it is clear we need a more impartial, honest and fair system that considers all clemency petitions on an equal and more time-efficient basis.





  1. Diane Dimond on November 26, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    Daniel Simone writes:

    Daniel Simone Historically, American society has been inclined to be more sympathetic towards animals than humans. We sensitively concern ourselves with animal cruelty and often disregard cruelty perpetrated on people.

  2. Diane Dimond on November 26, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    Jim Reynolds writes:

    Good point!

    • Diane Dimond on November 26, 2018 at 4:12 pm

      DD replies:

      Jim, my goal in life is to make people think! 🙂

  3. Diane Dimond on November 26, 2018 at 4:12 pm

    William Drummond writes:

    Two of my San Quentin friends had their sentences commuted by Gov. Jerry Brown. One was originally sentenced to a term of 50-years-to life. The other, 31-years-to life. Big Thanksgiving Day surprise.

    • Diane Dimond on November 26, 2018 at 4:14 pm

      DD replies:

      How wonderful is that?! Now, I wish POTUS would pardon more people than just the “celebrity” ones (Sheriff Joe Arpiao) and the ones brought to him by “celebrities” like Kim Kardashian.

  4. Diane Dimond on November 26, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Roy Merritt writes:

    Pardon one or two turkeys, kill and eat several other turkeys. Just the WH dinner. I expected Trump, as a realist, if he were one, would eschew the PC story of pardoning turkeys, ending the hypocrisy, and instead naming hundreds of people who are non-violent offenders.

  5. Diane Dimond on November 26, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Sue Corcoran writes:


  6. Diane Dimond on November 26, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    Sunrise Sunset@SunriseSunset writes:

    BIG difference, the “damn” turkeys as you called them did NOTHING WRONG!

    • Diane Dimond on November 26, 2018 at 4:17 pm

      DD replies:

      Some of those seeking pardons were wrongfully convicted, Sunrise. Some got draconian sentences that were over-the-top punishment for the non-violent crime committed.

      Don’t they deserve the same as a turkey?

  7. Diane Dimond on November 26, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    Mary Brock writes:

    Kind of believe that we will see more pardons. This president isn’t waiting until he’s leaving office!

    • Diane Dimond on November 26, 2018 at 4:19 pm

      Diane Dimond replies:

      I’m fine with that. As long as they are truly deserving of clemency – and not just a political pardon likes some of those we’ve seen in the past.

  8. Diane Dimond on November 28, 2018 at 1:31 pm

    Doreen Merrey Siskin writes:

    Diane Dimond what ? that’s ridiculous they even have the power to pardon ,,I hate that so much ,,you are pretty much spitting at the jurists who actually heard the cases ,,

  9. Diane Dimond on November 28, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    Doreen Merrey Siskin writes:

    Way too much power IMO

    • Diane Dimond on November 28, 2018 at 1:32 pm

      Diane Dimond replies to Doreen Merrey Siskin:

      Part of the checks and balances our founding fathers gave to the President. … a check on the judicial system that doesn’t always get it right.

  10. Diane Dimond on November 28, 2018 at 1:38 pm

    Jeff Davis writes:

    So many things we want, need or align with take time. William Langland wrote that “patience is a virtue.” For someone incarcerated, it is difficult to be virtuous in that way. But, consider that any president is one person looking to the welfare of many. Any president only has pardoning power to federal prisoners. Perhaps a larger, more accurate posturing is to petition the states, since that is where the largest prison multitudes reside. The comment directed at the president may be popular but the biggest burden for pardons belongs to governors.

    • Diane Dimond on November 28, 2018 at 1:38 pm

      Diane Dimond replies to Jeff Davis:

      You are absolutely correct. Most prisoners are held at the state level and governors are the only ones with the power to pardon them.

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