Criminal Law

Problematic Pardons; the Clemmons Clemency

Mike Huckabee, the governor of Arkansas is known for granting pardons to many prisoners. In fact he has pardoned or transported more prisoners than his three predecessors combined. Huckabee’s pardon of Maurice Clemmons exposes his relaxed standard.

What is a Pardon?

A pardon, also called a clemency, is from a head of state, such as a president, forgiving a crime and the penalty for that crime. Pardons are routine in many countries where the criminal demonstrates fulfillment of their debt to society, or, in the opinion of the pardoning official, they deserve the pardon.

The President’s ability to pardon extends only to federal offenses. State governors may grant pardons for state criminal law crimes. In some states, the power is given to an appointed agency or board or to both in some hybrid arrangement.

The Maurice Clemmons Pardon

Maurice Clemmons is a suspect in a recent killing of 4 police officers in Seattle. Huckabee granted Clemmons a pardon in 2000, and as a result, has received much criticism; so much that in running for President, this will surely be an issue.


Governor Huckabee accepted responsibility for making Clemmons eligible for parole, and called the case “a failure of the justice systems in Arkansas and Washington.” He justified, “If I could have known nine years ago that this guy was capable of something of this magnitude, obviously I would have never granted a commutation. It’s sickening.”[1]

Amount of Pardons

Clemmons’ crime brings Huckabee’s pardon record to light. Clemmons was one among 1,033 who Huckabee either pardoned or reduced a sentence during his ten and half years as governor. His predecessors - Bill Clinton, Frank White and Jim Guy Tucker - whose terms toad up to 17½ years, only granted 507 pardons.

More Criticism

After the release, Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley, whose office opposed Clemmons’ parole in 2000 and 2004, accused Huckabee of creating a flawed system by releasing so many prisoners and said that Clemmons “should have stayed locked up like the jury wanted…”[2]

Huckabee was criticized and even sued over his practices. He was particularly ridiculed after he granted Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards a pardon for a 1975 traffic offense after meeting him at a concert.

Why Did Huckabee Grant a Pardon to Clemmons?

In 1989, at age 17, Clemmons was convicted in Little Rock for aggravated robbery and other charges and sentenced to 108 years. While in prison, Clemmons broke prison rules more than two dozen times; prison authorities even cited his outbursts as violent.

So why did Huckabee grant a pardon to a convicted rapist with bad prison behavior? Prosecutors have explained that Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist preacher, had an inclination to release or reduce the sentences of prisoners he had direct contact with.

Clemmons sent Huckabee a letter asking for leniency, which probably appealed to his Christian faith. Clemmons wrote that he “prayed Huckabee would show him compassion and said at the time of his crimes he had just moved to Arkansas from Seattle.” Clemmons also wrote that he had changed his life since “the angel of death has visited and taken away my dear sweet mother.”[3]

What’s Happening in Other States?

Huckabee’s actions in Arkansas don’t reflect a trend in other parts of the country. Most governors don’t grant as many pardons. However, many governors and state officials have been dealing with prison overpopulation and state budget crisis by releasing prisoners early.

More than 850 Illinois inmates have been released from state prison early since September, angering law enforcement personnel. Some prisoners are eligible for early release if they didn't commit a violent crime and have demonstrated good behavior.

However, in Illinois, some prisoners are serving less than 3 weeks out of their yearlong sentence As a result, the Governor, Pat Quinn, denounced the state’s prison’s early release program and suspended the practice. He also called for a "top-to-bottom" review of the Corrections Department policy that created such lenient standards.

These practices reflect the different approaches to prisoners in many states. Some officials solve the overcrowding by releasing prisoners through pardons, and some try to reduce the amount by early release out of necessity.

Question For Your Attorney

  • How would I apply for a pardon?
  • Can I argue that an imate should not be given a pardon if the imate asks for it?
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