Judge Stays Former Governor Barbour’s PardonsBy Jeffrey Hess | Published 11 Jan 2012 10:39pm |
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is accusing former Governor Haley Barbour of violating the state constitution when he pardoned more than 200 convicted criminals in his final hours as Governor. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that Hood is challenging most of the Governor Barbour's pardons in court.
A Hinds county circuit court judge put stay on the pardons last night, preventing 21 pardoned inmates from being released from prison.
Attorney General Jim Hood asked for the stay because he believes the state constitution requires that people seeking a pardon publish their request in the local news paper for at least 30 days before the pardon is issued.
Hood says they believe this requirement was not met.
"It is a slap in the face to everybody in law enforcement. Every juror and sent these people to penitentiary. All the money the country has spent. All the stress victims have been through and trials to convict many of them. It is a slap in the a face to them. And Governor Barbour ought to be ashamed of himself in the actions he has taken in releasing over 200 people," Hood said.
Barbour has released a written statement defending the pardons, pointing out that most of the people are very ill or finished with their term and the pardon will allow them to get jobs, own guns, or vote.
The five inmates who have already been released but still owe time are required to stay in contact with the state.
Mississippi's constitution provides wide latitude for the governor to make decisions on who to pardon, says Mississippi College of law professor Matt Steffe.
"In theory, the Governor could pardon everybody. Although that is obviously not going to happen. There is no set number of pardons he can use. There is no set criteria for it. All of this comes under the general notion of clemency. Clemency is a broad word meaning a reduction in sentence. A pardon is the most sweeping form of clemency. It is complete, full and unconditional," Steffe said.
The high number of pardons is unusual compared to past Mississippi governors and the decision has sparked outrage among victim's advocacy groups.
Members of the Mississippi legislature are planning to issue bills to limit the governor's powers.
Governor Phil Bryant agrees that this portion of the constitution should be examined.
"I am concerned that perhaps the constitution might give latitude to governors in the future and I think that is something that could be reviewed," Bryant said.
Bryant says the governor's ability to issue pardons should be preserved but should only be used in cases where new evidence proves someone's innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.
The next step in the process, is a court date set for a week from Monday.
In the mean time, the attorney general's office will be examining each of the more than 170 cases in question.
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