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Mississippi Supreme Court Hears Pardons Case

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 09 Feb 2012 05:35pm | comments
The court hears arguments from defense attorney Tom Fortner.

The Mississippi Supreme Court is weighing the constitutionality of a group of pardons issued by former Governor Haley Barbour. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that the decision of the court could mean 10 people have to return to serving lengthy prison sentences.

"I don’t want any jury arguments. No grandstanding. No Sniping. Does everybody understand that?"

Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller opens Thursday hearing by warning the gathered lawyers to stay on target.

What followed was more than three hours of the justices grilling the attorney general and several defense lawyers over the constitutionality of some of the pardons issued in the waning days of former governor Haley Barbour's administration.

Attorney General Jim Hood filed suit to stop the pardons arguing that most of the more than 200 pardons do not meet a notification requirement laid out in the state's constitution.

"We said in 1890, 'governor you do not have the authority to grant a pardon until the applicant shall publish'. So it made it mandatory. So we took that power away. We said 'you can still have it, but you got to make sure this is done first," Hood said.

Lawyers for the people who received pardons presented a variety of arguments, but mainly they argue this is a matter of separation of powers and the court cannot review the pardons.

Attorney Charles Griffin represented former governor Barbour before the Supreme Court.

"the issues involved in this case, from the governor's stand point, involve protecting the duty and the obligation of the governor to serve as the person decides pardon issues and decides whether or not the procedures involving pardons have been complied with," Griffin said.

While there is no clear time line for a decision from the Supreme Court there are several possible outcomes...The court could let the pardons stand, or decide a lower court can review all of them.

The pardons drew outrage from some of the victims and their families, who spoke after the hearing.

Randy Walker was shot in the head by a man who governor Barbour pardoned.....he wants the court to review the pardons, and potentially overturn them.

"If they go the wrong way, they set a precedent that no matter what the law passed in the future is, that the governor of Mississippi can circumvent that law because he is above it. That nobody can judge him that nobody can call him on the carpet that nobody can question what he said or what he did. And I think that would be a terrible way to go," Walker said.

10 people who received pardons still owe prison time and their future is at the heart of this case, adding pressure on the Supreme Court to make a decision quickly.



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