Mandatory Sentences & Gubernatorial Pardons
Many states, including Arizona, have adopted a “one-size fits all” sentencing procedure – called mandatory sentences. Supposedly it is supposed to make all sentences for specific crimes uniform and fair without giving the judge or jury a say in the matter. The problem is that every criminal act is not the same. The “one-size fits all” theory did not work in Communist countries when they manufactured shoes and it isn’t fair in most cases involving criminal acts.
Recently a man who had a legal and holstered gun on his belt argued with a police officer. He wasn’t violent. He did not threaten. He did not put his hand on the gun or brandish it in any way. He just argued with the police officer about why he was stopped. A jury found the man guilty of resisting a lawful order of a police officer while in possession of a gun, and he received a mandatory 10 year prison sentence! The jury had no idea of what the sentence would be if they found the man guilty of the charge filed. Several jurors said they did not consider the man’s action so serious and would not have voted guilty if they had known the length of the sentence the man would receive. For this reason, if we are to keep the mandatory sentence laws, the juries must be informed “in advance” what the sentence would be if they find the accused guilty.
In Texas, several years ago, a man was sentenced to “life in prison” as a “three time loser.” The law in Texas and many other states is that if you are convicted of three separate felonies, you are considered a habitual criminal and you go to prison for life. But this man wasn’t a habitual or violent criminal! His first felony was fraud for failure to fulfill a contract to a homeowner – he was in the contracting business and he pled guilty to that first felony. Several years later (before marijuana was almost socially acceptable) he “gave” a marijuana cigarette to an undercover agent in a bar – strike two! Then several years later he bounced a check – another felony and strike three – life in prison!
The current system of questionable-justice, also involves the recommendations of a Pardons and Clemency Board (usually appointed by the Governor). But the current governor in Arizona almost automatically refuses to accept the Board recommendations.
When a man, in prison for 32 years, presents substantial evidence and testimony to the State Clemency Board to show that he was innocent, the governor still refused to grant clemency or a pardon. This happens repeatedly and must be brought to a screeching halt. Governors have the power to grant pardons and reduce sentences, but they have other factors that might influence how they decide: The governor might be politically motivated and doesn’t want to appear “soft” on crime. Or if the state made a mistake in imprisoning someone, the state budget might be strained by paying for the mistake. Or, there could be any number of “personal” reasons for ignoring the recommendations of a clemency board. Or the governor might take the attitude of many prosecutors –“they had their day in court!”
To resolve these in-justices, legislation must be passed to require a judge to inform the jury of a mandatory sentence before they deliberate innocence or guilt, When the governor refuses to abide by a recommendation of the pardons and clemency board, the subject must be granted a hearing by a “jury of private citizens” (We, the people…) to hear the evidence and testimony that resulted in the board’s recommendation for a pardon or clemency – and the jury’s decision should over-ride that of the governor!