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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Pardons: an extraordinary remedy

I know sentiments are divided on whether President Bush was right to commute Scooter Libby’s sentence and this post gives you the chance to post about it if you choose. But I thought I’d take the opportunity to bring you up to date on Minnesota’s pardon/commutation law.

The Minnesota Board of Pardons consists of the governor, the chief justice and the attorney general. Article V, Sec. 7 of the Minnesota Constitution and Minn. Stat. Ch. 638 allow the board to grant a pardon (which exempts the person from punishment), a commutation (which changes the punishment) or a pardon extraordinary, which is relief granted to applicants who have served their sentence.

The board granted 12 extraordinary pardons last year out of 27 requests -- and no pardons or commutations. Of the 12 extraordinary pardons, six were for theft or robbery, one was for fifth degree assault, one for attempted criminal damage to property and four for drug offenses.

Minnesota’s most famous recent pardon came a few months ago to retired Minnesota Vikings lineman Jim Marshall. Marshall, now 70, won an extraordinary pardon for his 1991 conviction on a cocaine possession charge. He sought the pardon so he could travel the world without restrictions to work for a nonprofit he co-founded. (Marshall was one of the Purple People Eaters along with Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, Carl Eller and Gary Larsen. But I digress.)

Marshall had already had his conviction expunged and presented a substantial amount of character evidence to the board, said his attorney, Ronald Meshbesher of Minneapolis. Such character evidence is important for anyone seeking a pardon, Meshbesher said. “I rarely get approached about it but I’m surprised more people don’t do it,” the attorney added.

Pardons based on innocence are rare, said Meshbesher. “I can’t think of a sentence set aside on the ground of innocence. There is something to our system of justice that we ought to take credit for,” he said.

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