Who Gets Pardoned?
Date:  02-18-2013

Often the decision depends on the political view of a governor, rather than the merits of the application
When the decision to grant a pardon to someone who has committed a crime falls into the hands of a governor, the chances are slim that the pardon will be granted. Stateline the daily news organ of Pew Charitable Trusts reports that politics can play a major role in granting pardons.

There are three ways pardon applications are decided, Stateline reveals.

  • By an independent board

  • By a board comprised of the Governor and individual who may be appointed by the governor, or other “high level officials”

  • By the governor alone

    According to Stateline, in the six states that have an independent board, without politics playing a role in the decision, the decisions tend to be more consistent. In states that include both the governor and a board consisting of appointees or officials, pardons are few. And when the governor alone makes the decision whether to pardon a person or not, the end result depends on the governor’s own personal views regarding pardons. Some governors, such as Mike Beebee of Arkansas, have issued a large number of pardons, in Beebe’s case, a whopping 529. Other governors such as Scott Walker, (Wisconsin) Andrew Cuomo (New York), and Deval Patrick (Massachusetts) have not granted any pardons, with Stateline quipping “These days, many governors are more inclined to pardon a turkey for Thanksgiving or a pig for a bacon festival, than to grant restored rights to a convicted criminal.”

    Pardons are also hard to come by on the federal level. Reentry Central has reported on president Obama’s dismal record of granting pardons during his time in office.

    Stateline provides a fascinating look at the pardons in many states. For example, in Rhode Island, the Senate has to approve a pardon application if it is to be granted. And politics and personal views can play a major role. Margaret Colgate Love, who was the U.S. Pardon Attorney between 1990 and 1997, commented to Stateline “Particularly when a governor does it alone, pardoning is a very personal thing, and the reasons for doing it can vary. To me, it is a measure of character. In some states, like Arkansas and Nebraska and Connecticut, there is a culture and expectation that there will be pardons. But there is always a political element because popular opinion is the main brake on the power.”

    Stateline provides an infographic detailing who makes the pardon decisions in each state.
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