Turkeys 3, Prisoners 0 – Update for November 28, 2017

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.


presidential_pardon_thanksgiving_tile_coasterThe good news from the Trump White House is that the President has issued 1.5 times more pardons in his first 10 months in office as did either President Obama or President George W. Bush. The bad news is that the pardons only number three, all of the recipients were turkeys of one type of plumage or another, and none of the  pardons suggests the President will be very interested in further clemency.

arpaio171128The first act came in late August, when Trump pardoned primo turkey Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio – already well known for his harsh treatment of inmates – after he was convicted of contempt of court for ignoring federal court orders against harassing Hispanics. Prisoners applying for executive clemency are advised by the Justice Department that a show of contrition really helps, but that’s not necessarily a condition if you’re the good Sheriff.

A week ago today, President Trump pardoned two more turkeys, both more the Meleagris gallopavo kind, in the annual pre-Thanksgiving pardoning ritual that has been around for 30, 50 or 140 years, depending on the historian you believe.

Ohio State University law professor Doug Berman noted that Obama, Bush and Clinton “all started their presidencies with two full years in which they failed to use their historic clemency powers in any way. But Prez Trump is unlike his predecessors in so many ways, and his use of the pardon power is yet another example.” After the pardons of Phoenix-area Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the turkeys named Wishbone and Drumstick last week, Prof. Berman wonders about the next acts of clemency: “who knows?”

pardon171128But Trump himself has in the past as well as last Tuesday implied a lack of enthusiasm for the kinds of clemency Obama pursued. After announcing that Wishbone and Drumstick will join the two turkeys Obama pardoned last year, “Tater” and “Tot,” Trump joked that he is not allowed to reverse Obama’s turkey pardons.

“As many of you know,” Trump said, “I have been very active in overturning a number of executive actions by my predecessor. However I have been informed by the White House Counsel’s office that Tater and Tot’s pardons cannot under any circumstances be revoked. Tater and Tot, you can rest easy.”

Maybe the birds can shake their tailfeathers for joy, but the people most interested in clemency can fairly read into Trump’s statement a decided lack of interest in the Obama-era clemency.

Sentencing Law and Policy, Hasn’t Prez Trump has already pardoned a turkey before this week’s traditional ceremony? (Nov. 20, 2017)

Business Insider, Trump pardons ‘Drumstick’ the turkey and jokes about overturning Obama’s turkey pardons (Nov. 21, 2017)

– Thomas L. Root


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