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UPDATE: Police shot and killed Maurice Clemmons early this morning in Seattle. They still don’t know what prompted him to shoot four police officers as they did paperwork on their laptops Sunday morning.
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It’s hard for those of us with a liberal bent (like me) — who argue for a more forgiving and restorative criminal justice system — to resist calling out any conservative who commutes the sentence of a criminal who goes on to commit a heinous act. The acts Maurice Clemmons is accused of committing are particularly heinous. And Mike Huckabee is not just any conservative. Still, I’ll try.

In How Clemmons Went From Prisoner To Alleged Cop Killer — And Why It Matters For Mike Huckabee, Justin Elliott just lays out the facts. He points to an ABC report that many suggest Huckabee was swayed to commute Maurice Clemmons’ sentence by his religious views. That doesn’t sound like an unreasonable exercise of religious influence to me.

In Fox News Lets Huckabee Off the Hook for Releasing Clemmons, Dominic Holden quotes Huckabee saying that commuting Clemmons’ sentence is “not something I’m happy about at this particular moment.” Bill O’Reilly responds, “It’s not your fault, governor… I’m not saying it’s your fault. I don’t think anybody watching thinks it’s your fault.”

Holden went on to catch a typical O’Reilly factual error, and I will follow The Slog for updates on the hunt for Clemmons. But I will not so quickly jump on the make Clemmons Huckabee’s Willie Horton bandwagon (even as I am tempted by Jeralyn’s persuasive suggestion that several of Huckabee’s pardons made no sense).

I’m in favor of clemency and the fact that Huckabee cited Clemmons’ youth in commuting his sentence is precisely the kind of thing I called for a couple weeks back. And I was pleased to read last week in the NYTimes that Right and Left are joining forces on criminal justice:

Edwin Meese III, who was known as a fervent supporter of law and order as attorney general in the Reagan administration, now spends much of his time criticizing what he calls the astounding number and vagueness of federal criminal laws.

Mr. Meese once referred to the American Civil Liberties Union as part of the “criminals’ lobby.” These days, he said, “in terms of working with the A.C.L.U., if they want to join us, we’re happy to have them.”

Dick Thornburgh, who succeeded Mr. Meese as attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and stayed on under President George Bush, echoed that sentiment in Congressional testimony in July.

“The problem of overcriminalization is truly one of those issues upon which a wide variety of constituencies can agree,” Mr. Thornburgh said. “Witness the broad and strong support from such varied groups as the Heritage Foundation, the Washington Legal Foundation, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the A.B.A., the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society and the A.C.L.U.” […]

Harvey A. Silverglate, a left-wing civil liberties lawyer in Boston, says he has been surprised and delighted by the reception that his new book, “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent,” has gotten in conservative circles. (A Heritage Foundation official offered this reporter a copy.)

The book argues that federal criminal law is so comprehensive and vague that all Americans violate it every day, meaning prosecutors can indict anyone at all.

I hardly even care that Meese blames the “liberal ideas of extending the power of the state” for an out-of-control criminal justice system. The Economist interview with Radley Balko that Nick pointed to here on TMV over the weekend is also getting good traction:

[T]he incentive problems are most apparent with prosecutors. Prosecutors get no credit for cases they decide not to bring, either because of a lack of evidence or because pressing charges wouldn’t be in the interest of justice. They’re only rewarded for winning convictions. That’s what gets them promoted, or re-elected, or gives them the elevated profile to run for higher office. Every incentive points toward winning convictions. And particularly with prosecutors, there’s really no penalty at all for going too far to get a guilty verdict. One real disservice the Duke lacrosse case did for the criminal-justice system is it put in the public consciousness the idea that bad actors like Mike Nifong are regularly disciplined for misconduct. In truth, that case was really exceptional.

I believe our criminal justice system is brutal and broken. I want a system that keeps those guilty of heinous crimes locked up. But I also want it to work harder to keep people out of it and try to restore those who will leave it to become productive contributors to society. That clearly did not happen for Maurice Clemmons. And now those crimes he is accused of committing will make it harder to move the criminal justice system in that direction.

JOE WINDISH, Technology Editor
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Ron Beasley
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6 years 9 months ago

I don’t like Mike Huckabee. I am a liberal. That said I’m willing to not only let Huckabee off the hook but say he did the right thing at the time. There were plenty of opportunities for authorities in both Arkansas and Washington to take Clemmons out of the loop. Unlike many of my liberal peers I do believe that there are people who are too broken to be fixed and should be locked away forever. I don’t believe this was obvious when Gov Huckabee granted his clemency.

DLS
Guest
DLS
6 years 9 months ago
There’s nothing wrong with what you did, Joe. I heard about the Huckabee clemency issue this morning, and I’m surprised it took this long for a thread to be started on this site about it, honestly; given the kind of liberal to very liberal typical politics here, I expected at least two or three threads (though admittedly not as many as threads about, say, Sarah Palin or Carrie Prejean). Only time will tell if this will be a fatal blow to a Huckabee bid in 2012 for the Presidency. Aside from being Religious Right (an instant DQ and toxic waste… Read more »
JeffersonDavis
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JeffersonDavis
6 years 9 months ago
I don’t know, DLS. I really don’t think this is the same thing as the Willie Horton incident, even though it’s the same thing as the Willie Horton incident. Allow me to explain that obviously odd statement…… When a liberal commutes a sentence and the scumbag goes on to kill or rape; it becomes fodder for the right to nail the candidate for “typical liberal soft-on-crime” policies. When a conservative does the same thing, the left won’t touch it because they already have a liberal view of the criminal justice system and commutations play into that hand. That’s probably why… Read more »
DLS
Guest
DLS
6 years 9 months ago
Hey, J.D., “When a liberal commutes a sentence and the scumbag goes on to kill or rape; it becomes fodder for the right to nail the candidate for ‘typical liberal soft-on-crime’ policies.” This is why I wrote earlier about liberals here.  Because, “When a conservative does the same thing, the left won’t touch it because they already have a liberal view of the criminal justice system and commutations play into that hand. That’s probably why there hasn’t been many threads on this subject.  Since the mainstream media believes in commutations and smacks-on-the-wrist; they’ll stay away from Huckabee (for now) on… Read more »
JeffersonDavis
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JeffersonDavis
6 years 9 months ago

“I believe he may not be as up to the Presidency and as on top of world-affairs, at least not during the 2008 contest, anyway”

I tend to agree with you. You need the right person at the right time.
By 2012, however, I truly think he should be the man for the job. His mix of conservatism and moderate fiscal spending would be ideal to refocus our nation’s efforts inward – after Afghanistan.

We need a good “home” President for a while. I’m war weary.

nicrivera
Guest
6 years 9 months ago
Bill O’Reilly is your classic big government conservative. When it comes to civil liberties and law-and-order type issues, O’Reilly consistently advocates whatever position will lead to the most amount of government control, the most draconian punishments, and the most amount of time in jail. Whether its the War on Drugs, the Patriot Act, or obscenity on television, he consistently takes the pro-government/anti-liberty position. O’Reilly is the type of guy that sees every social issue in terms of black and white with no shades of gray in between. Everything is either good or evil, and God help you if you’re a… Read more »
spirasol
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spirasol
6 years 9 months ago
I agree with the author: that our prison system is no longer rehabilitative, only punitive………so what goes in comes out worse. We should try to do better. Also on the WHO goes to jail issue; there are inequities there too. Justice is fleeting at best today fleeting all the more. In a system where our system of governance is often confused with our economic model and the combination leads to essentially class justice. I gotta kick out of Tiger Woods turning down the 3rd request for an interview, when in my neighborhood, it wouldn’t even have been worded as a… Read more »
JeffersonDavis
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JeffersonDavis
6 years 9 months ago

I really don’t think Huckabee is “squirming” about this.
I believe that he feels a sense of remorse. I’m not a mind reader, but that’s the vibe I got from his statements.

As far as our criminal justice system, I stinks all the way around. You can’t rehabiliate some kinds of crime. Our prisons should be filled with thieves, petty criminals, and 2nd/3rd degree murderers. The rapists, pedophiles, and 1st degree murderers should be killed. Of course, I don’t expect you to agree with that opinion. It’s just that…. My opinion.

cambridge_paul
Guest
cambridge_paul
6 years 9 months ago
The UK’s experience is not ideal, but because our judiciary and prosecuting authorities are separate and non-elected (and aggressively apolitical) it is rare that a criminal trial is affected by politics. When the criminal law wanders into the political arena here in the UK someone’s job in the legal system is usually terminated!!! In addition, I’m sorry to say that my professional encounters with members of the American Bar involved in either prosecuting or defending have not left me with my respect for them. There’s far too much grandstanding, press seeking and sheer incompetence. I am not alone in this… Read more »
CStanley
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CStanley
6 years 9 months ago
When a conservative does the same thing, the left won’t touch it because they already have a liberal view of the criminal justice system and commutations play into that hand. That’s probably why there hasn’t been many threads on this subject. Since the mainstream media believes in commutations and smacks-on-the-wrist; they’ll stay away from Huckabee (for now) on this one. Not to mention the most obvious problem for any leftie who might be tempted to ‘Willie Horton’ Huckabee over this- the fact that the Horton ads were universally decried by the left as racist, and this would be no different… Read more »
superdestroyer
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superdestroyer
6 years 9 months ago

Dangerous criminals should be legally handled the same way as the government handles dangeorus chemicals. If the State of Arkansas had carelessly dumped hazardous chemicals, then the State of Arkansas and the officials responsible would be held accountable for their decisions.

Yet, government officials let dangerous criminals out of prison early and then refuse to monitor them no matter how much hard they cause. The politicians can do it because they cannot be held legally responsible.

DdW
Guest
DdW
6 years 9 months ago

If Huckabee were a liberal and a Democrat, he would be a punching bag for right wing blowhards an example of clueless, soft-on-crime politicians at their worst. Fox News would be stalking him, as they have others responsible for letting criminals out early.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/30/mike-huckabees-burden/?ref=opinion&8ty&emc=ty

pacatrue
Guest
pacatrue
6 years 9 months ago

I haven’t heard yet (though I am sure I could look it up) what exactly his crimes were in Arkansas. In my mind, it is when you kill someone that you get 100 years. But he hadn’t killed anyone then, right? I can’t help but wonder if the original punishment had been more reasonable, say 20 years, that Huckabee wouldn’t have been motivated to use clemency. And so he would have still been locked up.

But I’m speculating.

JeffersonDavis
Guest
JeffersonDavis
6 years 9 months ago
The way I understand it, pacatrue…. he was given 146 years in prison for steeling a purse (armed). The three strikes clause kicked in. Keep in mind, he was 16 years old at this time. Huckabee commuted 100 years of that sentence. He was then eligible for parol after 11 years in prison. He got out, served his parole and moved on. He was apparently STILL a scumbag. On the surface, a 16 year old armed purse-snatcher didn’t warrant 146 years in prison, and on the advice of his Attorney General, Governor Huckabee commuted the sentence to allow the young… Read more »
DLS
Guest
DLS
6 years 9 months ago
“it gets to the difficult dilemma of trying to preempt crime” Or punish appropriately, since a lot of crime isn’t deterred (many criminals have no conscience or have no medium- as well as long-term orientation of thinking, and are almost entirely impulsive and present-oriented). Left unsaid deliberately by me earlier, but which also enters this given the hostility and frequent hatred the Left has for the Religious Right, is to what extent the commutation was done on Huckabee’s moral grounds (which have a religious involvement), or (more to the point, I was thinking), if the prisoner had claimed to have… Read more »
DanML
Guest
DanML
6 years 9 months ago
Here is the CNN interview of Huckabee defending his clemency decision. He admits to knowing how violent Clemmons was. http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/crime/2009/12/03/griffin.clemmons.huckabee.cnn ” Clemmons moved from Washington to Arkansas as a youngster. There, he had several run-ins with the law, and eventually received the hefty prison sentence for a host of charges — including robberies, burglaries, thefts and bringing a gun to school. During a pretrial hearing, he hid a piece of metal in his sock, court documents said. Before the start of another hearing, he grabbed a padlock off his holding cell and threw it at a court bailiff. He missed,… Read more »
DanML
Guest
DanML
6 years 9 months ago
Huckabee: If I Had Same Facts Today, I’d Commute Sentence Again http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/02/huckabee-if-i-had-same-fa_n_377164.html “The former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate told a local TV station in West Lafayette, Indiana, on Tuesday that his decision to lessen the 108-year sentence of Maurice Clemmons — who was convicted of aggravated robbery when he was 17 — was ultimately the right one to make, one that others in his shoes would have done as well.” “Despite the torrent of criticism, Huckabee stuck to his guns. “If I had the exact same information in front of me tonight that I had 9 years ago,… Read more »
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