We see it each year at Thanksgiving time. A small crowd on The White House lawn, family members of the President gathered around while the star of the show, a turkey, is granted a pardon from becoming the day’s meal from the President himself.
With presidential clemency powers, it is within the president’s rights to save a bird (or two) each year, but more importantly, this power grants the President the right to pardon wrongfully imprisoned people.
This power has been exercised numerous times throughout history for not only full release from federal prison, but also to reduce sentences.
Along with the President, governors are provided the same power at the state level. This is significant because, as Justin Brooks, director and co-founder of the California Innocence Project, said, the United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world – most of which are incarcerated in state prisons. Additionally, California is the state with the most people in prison.
“To get a case opened in California is an incredible task,” Brooks said during his talk at TEDxSanDiego. “To un-ring that bell to get a court to say ‘we’re going to take a second look at this case’ … it’s a really difficult process.
To catch the attention of California Governor Jerry Brown, and in turn his clemency powers, Brooks and his team identified 12 compelling cases from all cross sections of the state’s communities to take to Brown as a petition for clemency.
But just sending a petition wasn’t enough to get his petition. So Brooks, and two lawyers from his office, set out to walk the petitions all 712 miles from San Diego to the state capitol in Sacramento and hand deliver them to the governor’s office.
As the title of his TEDxSanDiego presentation alludes to, clemencies can be magical, mystical and mysterious, especially when you’re wondering what became of the 12 case petitions that were walked straight to the governor’s office.