Pardons, clemency, and being soft on crime

Maurice Clemmons, the man who was pardoned by then Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in 2000, has been shot dead in Seattle, Washington. This after Clemmons shot and killed four police officers in the Seattle area.

Clemmons had been sentenced to 100 years in prison after a crime spree – including an armed robbery – when he was just 16.

Now commentators are questioning whether Huckabee should’ve granted the clemency in the first place. Huckabee should be second guessed. After all, what followed was a terrible crime.

But people should be careful about turning this terrible story into a lesson about how it’s wrong to be “soft on crime.”

Since the early 1990s, this country has gotten incredibly tough on crime, to the point now that three-strikes laws, mandatory minimums and structured sentencing, sex offender registries, and other increases in penalties mean that we have the largest percentage of people in jail of any industrialized country.

Anyone who has any experience with the criminal justice system knows that once you come in contact with it, it changes your life.

It would be a real shame if this story led to a tightening of already punitive laws, and a decrease in the number of already rare pardons granted by governors.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.