Why Should Some Criminals Get a Pardon

criminals should get a pardonIn the news lately, we hear of presidential pardons for former aids who have been convicted of crimes.  Why should some criminals get a pardon?  What is a criminal pardon?

Both presidents and governors have the power to pardon convicted offenders.

Is this a good idea?  And why should some criminals get a pardon?

Here’s a good analysis of the issue in the Pioneer Press in St. Paul.  They quote from an experienced judge (with full disclosure a good friend of mine) who advocates for more pardons.


What does a pardon mean?  When anyone is convicted of a felony, whether it’s a violent one or a property crime (stolen car, fraudulent use of credit card, etc) they get a permanent record.  That means many things for the person.  In most states they lose the ability to vote or own any hunting rifles.  They also must declare the conviction in job applications—which leads to extreme difficulties in getting good work.  A pardon erases all of these things and puts the offender on an even basis with people who have not been convicted.

Why would we saddle former criminals with these burdens?  It’s part of the punishment process.  The world should know that a person has a criminal past.  The classic cases are sex offenders.  The argument goes that the public should know about this behavior.  These offenders should not get a pardon.

But what about offenders who committed low-level offenses when they were young?  Let’s take the case of a person who commits a burglary at age 18.  Assume they’ve served their time and have been rehabilitated by proving they have led a crime-free life for 40 years.  Should these kinds of criminals get a pardon?

Here are several reasons why governors should grant more pardons:

  1.  Many criminals have proved they can avoid criminal behavior as they get older.  They obtain job skills and the community could use these skills in the workforce.  Without a pardon, these skills will not be used in a productive way.
  2. If the former criminal cannot get a meaningful job, they often resort to committing crimes again (like selling drugs or burglary) to support their families.
  3. It’s a compassionate thing to do.  After a low-level offender have “paid the price” shouldn’t the criminal get a pardon?
  4. I’m not in favor of pardons for violent offenders: murderers, rapists, sexual predators, high-level drug offenders, etc.  These are dangerous criminals that the public should be aware of, even if they’ve served their prison time.

Having worked as both a prosecutor and Public Defender for 40 years, I can tell you most criminals commit crimes because they’re stupid or drunk—but not because they’re evil.  As the criminals get older, their behavior changes, they become sober, and the threat to the public decreases.  But without a pardon, these people are condemned to a life time of difficulty.

These criminals should get a pardon.

What do you think?









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About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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