Pubdate: Sun, 23 Sep 2007
Source: St. Petersburg Times (FL)
Copyright: 2007 St. Petersburg Times
Author: Howard Troxler
Bookmark: (Clemency - United States)


The case of Richard Paey of Pasco County, who was pardoned by 
Florida's governor and Cabinet last week, is a great illustration of 
the role of clemency.

Paey was found guilty of possessing 700 Percocets, a pain drug, 
enough to trigger the state's trafficking laws.

Never mind that he was not a drug trafficker, or that he had the drug 
because he was crippled by pain from disease and past injury.

A jury said that by the letter of the law, he was guilty of 
trafficking. An appeals court ruled that it had no choice but to 
uphold the verdict.

You can argue that we ought to change our law that says, if you have 
X pills you are a drug dealer.

You also can argue that the prosecutors should have shown discretion 
and compassion.

But in the strictest sense, what happened to Paey, including his 
25-year sentence, was what Florida law said was supposed to happen.

To paraphrase Dickens, the law can be a donkey. There was no room to 
consider Paey's unique circumstances.

So off to prison he went, serving 3 1/2 years of his 25-year 
sentence, just as if he had been peddling the stuff to little kids 
outside the schoolyard.

He considered trying the U.S. Supreme Court, but dropped it. Instead, 
Paey pinned his hopes on clemency, a time-honored grant of relief 
enshrined in our federal and state constitutions.

The grant of clemency is often described as an "act of grace." It is 
a decision that the recipient deserves mercy, not necessarily that 
the court system was in error (although it can mean that, too).

Sometimes get-tough politicians mangle up this idea. Now and then you 
run across a state governor who brags about never giving anybody a 
pardon, period.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts running for 
president, likes to say that he never granted a pardon because "I 
didn't want to overturn a jury."

Since granting a pardon is precisely the act of overturning a jury, 
all he is saying is, "I didn't grant any pardons because I didn't 
want to." The governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, is said to be 
of like mind.

Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, on the other hand, sometimes was 
criticized for granting clemency too liberally. One of his more 
interesting pardons was for Keith Richards, the Rolling Stones 
guitarist, on a 1975 reckless-driving charge.

In Florida, we don't let our governor hand out pardons willy-nilly. 
The governor's approval is required, but it also takes a vote of the 
elected state Cabinet. Clemency can mean a pardon, a commutation or 
delay of sentence, restoration of civil rights or the forgiveness of a fine.

There are two kinds of clemency the governor and Cabinet cannot grant 
unilaterally. An impeached public official can't be pardoned. And 
clemency granted to a person convicted of treason must be confirmed 
or reversed by the Legislature.

The presence of clemency in our federal and state constitutions is a 
recognition that even with our rule of law, with laws that are 
intended to protect our liberty, we still need a safety valve.

So give me a politician who uses clemency carefully but with mercy, 
as our governor and Cabinet have done here. One who brags about 
refusing to use it either misunderstands its purpose, or misstates it 
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