Barack Obama
Obama grants pardons to five and commutes one sentence. Image: aflcio/Flickr/CC BY

President Obama announced a list of pardons on Monday. It is the third such list he has produced during his administration. The president has pardoned five people who were convicted of various offenses and already served their time. The chief executive also commuted one sentence. The presidential right to grant pardons has drawn controversy on several occasions.

The pardons

Martin Kaprelian of Park Ridge, Ill. received a nine-year sentence for conspiracy to transport stolen property.

Lesley Claywood Berry Jr. of Loretto, Ky., was sentenced to three years in prison for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana.

Dennis George Bulin of Wesley Chapel, Fla., was given five years of probation and a $20,000 fine for possession of more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana, with the intent to sell.

Ricky Dale Collett of Annville, Ky., landed a year of probation for aiding and abetting in the growing of 61 marijuana plants.

Thomas Paul Ledford of Jonesborough, Tenn., was sentenced to one year of probation for operating an illegal gambling business.

The commutation

In his first such act ever, President Obama decided to commute (cut short) the sentence of Eugenia Marie Jennings of Alton, Ill. She was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to 22 years in prison for distributing cocaine. She is to be released next month, but is still subject to eight years of supervised release.

The presidential right to pardon

The presidential power to grant pardons cannot be undone by any other branch of government. Presidential pardons are not enacted to right a wrong or to correct a judicial error. They are a symbolic gesture intended to give a second chance to people who have atoned for their wrongs. It has become a traditional gesture for a Governor or President to offer pardons to a handful of convicts as an act of good will at the end of an administration’s term.

Controversial pardons

Generally these pardons come without much public interest. On occasion, eyebrows have been raised when the pardons seemed to be self-serving or politically motivated.

The most controversial pardon was in 1974 when President Gerald Ford pardoned his impeached predecessor Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal. Ronald Reagan also drew criticism for pardoning George Steinbrenner in 1989. Steinbrenner was convicted of making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign. Bill Clinton likewise came under fire for pardoning Marc Rich in 2001. Rich was convicted of cheating the government out of millions. Many believe the pardon was a result of Rich’s wife’s generous contributions to the Democratic Party and to Clinton’s Presidential Library.


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