Mississippi judge blocks release of pardoned prisoners
posted at 2:30 pm on January 12, 2012 by Ed Morrissey
Is the gubernatorial power to pardon free from judicial jurisdiction in Mississippi? Haley Barbour’s flurry of pardons at the end of his term as governor in Mississippi has the victims and their families of the pardoned worried about retribution and the state’s Attorney General accusing him of abuse of power. Last night, a state judge agreed, and blocked the release of 21 of the pardon recipients:
As victims’ loved ones ask why killers and rapists got pardoned by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour during his final hours in office, a Mississippi state judge has temporarily halted the release of 21 of the 200-plus pardoned inmates.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood had requested the injunction against the inmates’ releases, telling reporters he believes some of Barbour’s pardons could have violated the state constitution by failing to give sufficient public notice that the convicts were seeking clemency.
The state constitution requires a public notice about an inmate’s intention to seek a pardon be published for 30 days before the governor can grant one.
Five former inmates, four of them convicted of murder and serving life sentences, have already been released. The state’s top lawyer is asking the court to serve those former inmates notices underlining that their release may be challenged.
Barbour tried to tamp down the controversy by noting that all but 26 of those pardoned had already been released from prison. It’s those 26, though, that have created the outcry. The victims of the four who have already been released expected a life sentence to mean that the person who murdered their loved one would never set foot onto free ground. Barbour argued that his pardons matched recommendations from the parole board “in more than 90 percent of the cases,” but it’s unclear whether the parole board recommended pardons for those convicted of first-degree murder — including the case of a man who stalked and murdered his estranged wife and shot another man in the head on the same night.
But can Mississippi reverse gubernatorial pardons? The AG argued that because Barbour did not adhere to the notification process, the pardons themselves are legally deficient. The current governor disagrees, although Phil Bryant is unlikely now to re-issue those pardons; he’s already said that he wouldn’t have pardoned people convicted of first degree murder. Bryant says that the authority to pardon is the governor’s alone, and that they are final.
This should be an interesting question in Mississippi. The state constitution gives the governor unlimited power for pardons, which suggests that regulation concerning notifications would be deficient if statutory rather than constitutional amendments — and the judiciary should have no role in determining their validity, unless the issue relies on whether Barbour was actually governor at the time the pardons were issued, which he apparently was, although they didn’t get published until after Bryant took office. Expect this constitutional crisis in Mississippi to go to the state’s Supreme Court — and probably in an expedited manner.