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Bipartisan Action Toward Tighter Pardoning Powers

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 17 Jan 2012 06:52pm | comments

Bi-partisan action appears to be underway at the capitol to limit the Governor's pardoning powers and change the state's prison trustee system. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that bills are expected in both the Mississippi house and Senate in the coming days.

As the work of the legislature cranks up in Jackson, talk of former Governor Haley Barbour's more than 200 pardons and other forms of clemency are a foremost topic.

Democratic Representative David Baria of Bay St. Louis is preparing a constitutional amendment that he says would bar a Governor from issuing pardons in the final days of their term.

"Prevent a Governor from granting pardons en masse while he or she is on the way out the door. In other words, they would have to do that so they have to deal with the fallout. No pardons within the final 90 days of a governor's term," Baria said.

Baria is also working on bills to require a public hearing with victims before the pardon can be issued and another that would prevent convicted murders from serving as Governor's mansion trustees.

In the Senate, Republican Senator Michael Watson wants to excluded murders as well as people convicted of sex crimes and crimes against children, from being mansion trustees.

Watson says he wants to clarify the process for publishing a pardon request and add to the list of people who cannot receive pardon.

"We want to also include those violent criminals, sex crimes and crimes against children, as unpardonable offense. So if we do that and give the rest of the crimes, give the governor oversight on who he can pardon with those. Then we would stay where we are but just limit the powers a little bit more," Watson said.

Both law makers are quick to point out that they believe the pardon system should remain largely in place.

That's the advice from University of Mississippi criminal justice expert Carl Jensen, who says the pardon system is vital to correct the wrongs that sometimes occur in the court process.

"You have to step back and say, 'well what are some of the reasons it is there? What are some of the benefits?'. You have to be careful that you don't throw the baby out with the bath water," Jensen said.

Jensen says the number of pardons Barbour issued took him by surprise but he still thinks a governor's pardoning powers serve an important role in the criminal justice system.

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