Questions on Gubernatorial Pardons.

It’s been frequently said and known that the Governors of US States can step into a legal situation and either issue a “stay” of a sentence (usually dealing with moments before an execution of a death row inmate) or a full on “pardon” of a crime.

Dealing with this current case regarding a then-17-year old boy and a 15-year old girl, the now-man has been convicted and sentenced to ten years incarceration. The whole situation revolves around a poorly written law which apparently makes no provisions for underaged minors, or consentual sex.

Anyway, suppose this gets really political. Can the Governor of Georgia just pardon the guy and commute his sentence? Would this vacate the sentence and further reporting requirements (considering he’s now a “felon” and has to register as a sex offender)? I remember hearing that Ford pardoned Nixon, which more or less ended the ‘Constitutional Crisis’ and set things right. Couldn’t the Governor just say, “Look, I’m pardoning this kid. Go back and fix this law!”

Otherwise, I’m calling Juge Wapner. ::bow wow wow. . . chikka chikka chikka. . . bow wow wow wow::

It looks like that answer is “no.” The (PDF) Georgia Constitution looks as if the governor has no power of pardon at all. Pardon power is exclusively granted to The Board of Paroles and Pardons, if I’m reading it right.

I am now speaking with the great expertise of someone giving his own opinion. I’m fairly sure it’s accurate, but I have no supportive information to provide, and would welcome confirmation or correction by someone with the proper expertise.

To the best of my knowledge, the right of a governor to pardon derives from the same right vested in the sovereign in English law. As such it is a prerogative power, one deriving from the office held and not requiring statutory authority – a “common law” power in the broader sense of that term.

Like all common law powers not regulated by the U.S. Constitution, that power is in place until modified, restricted, confirmed, extended, etc., by statute law or state constitution. The growing trend is to place the power either in a board specifically set aside to review pardons, paroles, commutations, etc., or in the governor on recommendation from such a board.

But the governor’s power remains in place, by either common law prerogative or statutory/constitutional authority, until or unless restricted by statute or constitutional amendment as is the case in Georgia (see Frank’s post #3) and Texas (see various past GD threads discussing Pres. Bush as Texas governor and the pardoning power).

Gubernatorial pardon powers vary from state to state. In Ohio, the governor is advised by a pardon and parole review board but has the power to disregard its advice. Gov. Celeste, when he left office, commuted a number of sentences and pardoned several women who had (he was convinced) murdered abusive husbands or boyfriends. There was a big hubbub about it, but the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Celeste had acted lawfully.

Gov. Ryan of Illinois commuted the sentences of all of the state’s Death Row prisoners to life imprisonment when he left office a few years ago, citing chronic problems in the state’s administration of the death penalty. Those decisions, too, were upheld, IIRC.

In other states, the governor’s discretion is much more limited.