Criminal justice reform, or at least frequent clemency of deserving prisoners, sounds like a very wonderful idea — so wonderful, in fact, that even the Trump White House has embraced it as their own.
Every time we hear about reform initiatives, it’s always involves a single mother who made a mistake trafficking marijuana 18 years ago for a boyfriend, has been in bars ever since due to some sort of sentencing loophole and has turned her life around, teaching other inmates how to read.
Mind you, I’m not mocking cases like that, and clearly such individuals probably deserve a second chance. What we don’t hear about, however, is the uglier side of the whole thing: usually involving clemency, usually involving people who probably shouldn’t be out on the streets again and often for political purposes.
In this vein, I present you Andrew Cuomo. The Democrat governor of New York gave clemency to 29 convicts at the end of last year, including, according to The New York Times, “22 immigrants who were at risk of deportation or blocked from citizenship because of criminal convictions.”
“While President Trump shuts down the federal government over his obsession with keeping immigrants out, New York stands strong in our support for immigrant communities,” Cuomo said in a statement.
“These actions will help keep immigrant families together and take a critical step toward a more just, more fair and more compassionate New York.”
There were also seven other individuals who received year-end pardons from the governor.
Even The Times couldn’t help but to note the rather cynical nature of the pardon process. See if you can’t detect a note of sarcasm here regarding the wholesale nature of the affairs: “Immigration has become a key theme in Mr. Cuomo’s annual clemency grants, responding to what he has called ‘a war on our immigrant communities’ by the Trump administration.”
In the next paragraph, it was mentioned that Gov. Cuomo would be taking the oath of office for his third term as governor on Ellis Island — “the historic point of entry for immigrants to the United States” — on Tuesday, one day after the pardons. Not heavy-handed symbolism at all. Say what you will about The Times, they sometimes either have a coy sense of humor or at least unintentionally stumble upon it.
In the piece, The Times notes that those pardoned were “mostly convicted on nonviolent drug crimes.” Fair enough. See if this qualifies as a “minor drug crime” to you:
“The recipients of Mr. Cuomo’s commutations included Roy Bolus, 49, who was sentenced to 75 years to life for his secondary role in a drug deal that ended in the deaths of two men. Mr. Bolus is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in prison.”
“You meet him and say, ‘Why is this man in prison after 30 years for a crime he committed when he was 18?’” Steve Zeidman, professor and director of the criminal defense clinic at the City University of New York School of Law and one of the men who helped Bolus with his application, said.
That question is apparently rhetorical for Mr. Zeidman in a different way than it’s rhetorical for me: He played a part in a drug deal which saw two people die.
Bolus is being pardoned along with Alphonse Riley-James, who were both 18 years old when they traveled to Albany to take part in a drug deal that went bad, according to the Albany Times Union. Two dealers were killed, execution style. Neither pulled the trigger, but both were convicted of murder, robbery, burglary and criminal possession of weapons.
That wasn’t the only controversial commutation.
“The governor also commuted the sentence of Michael Crawford, 38, who served 20 years of a 22-to-life sentence after being convicted at age 17 of shooting an individual who stole concert tickets from him in Buffalo in 1999,” the New York Post reported.
“The governor also commuted the sentences of three other prisoners convicted of robbery or weapons possession.”
None of these are “non-violent drug crimes.” This is somewhat important since some of the individuals he offered conditional pardons to have gone on to be rearrested for new crimes.
In short, this clemency attempt is nothing short of a politically motivated stunt by a politically motivated man who thinks the NRA is dangerous but has no problem letting people out of jail who shot others over concert tickets and keeping people in the country who, by rights, should be deported. Nice work.
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