California Gov. Jerry Brown, continuing his practice of granting clemency before major Christian holidays, pardoned another 112 people, bring his total as governor to record 1,258.
The California Constitution empowers the governor with the right of clemency that can come in the form of a pardon, which is forgiveness of a sentence; a commutation, which is reduction of a sentence; or a reprieve, which is a temporary putting off of punishment while the situation is analyzed further.
The practice of California governors granting pardons was relatively commonplace until the 1990s, with Republican Ronald Reagan granting 574 during his two terms and Republican George Deukmejian, a former state attorney general, granting 325 during his two terms.
The action had declined with the increase in political populism and the get tough-on-crime politics of the 1990s. Republican Pete Wilson only granted 13 pardons; Democrat Gray Davis did not grant any pardons; and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger granted only 15.
But Brown has granted more than 700 pardons since he was elected Governor and took office in 2011. Adding in his prior two terms in the 1970s as California, Brown has racked-up a stunning total of 1,258 pardons.
This holiday season, pardons all went to people whose sentences were completed more than a decade ago, with most going to those convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. But a number had committed more serious crimes, including robbery, burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, forgery, financial crimes, kidnapping and vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
As a social justice Christmas present this year, Brown also cut 10 years off the prison term of, and sped up eligibility for, Louis Calderon’s parole. The 19-year old gang member received a sentence of 32 years to life in 1999 for causing a woman to lose her eye after he pulled up next to another car and an accomplice opened fire.
Brown wrote that Calderon had dropped out of his former gang and become a model inmate. In the last 17 years, Brown wrote that Calderon had never been disciplined in prison. He also received multiple community college degrees, earned a paralegal certificate, and now actively tutors other inmates: “This is a very serious crime, but it is clear that Mr. Calderon has distinguished himself by his exemplary conduct in prison and his forthright and continuing separation from gang activities of any kind.”
Each of the pardoned individuals will be granted a certificate of rehabilitation by the county superior court. Although a gubernatorial pardon does not erase a conviction, state and federal law enforcement agencies are informed and the pardon becomes a public record.
Despite Brown’s unusually large number of pardons, Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, a conservative Republican from Lake Elsinore who has been critical of Brown’s progressive approach to criminal justice, told the Press Enterprise that she has reviewed the pardons without finding any that “jars my anger.”
“They’ve already done their time. It’s not lessening their punishment and they had to prove to the court that they are upstanding citizens and have stayed out of trouble. So I don’t view that aspect of his role as governor as being soft on crime.”