August 23, 2003
Perry pardons most Tulia defendants

Governor Perry has pardoned 35 Tulia defendants, which is mostly good news. I hate to poop on this, but there are a few things which trouble me:

Perry announced the pardons in the notorious Tulia case along with 25 others. In June he had signed into law a bill releasing those incarcerated in the Tulia busts, pending an appeal.

"Questions surrounding testimony from the key witnesses in these cases, coupled with recommendations from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, weighed heavily in my final decision," Perry said.

"Texans demand a system that is tough but fair. I believe my decision to grant pardons in these cases is both appropriate and just," he added.

Perry spokesman Kathy Walt, however, said the pardons granted were not based on a determination of innocence.

A full pardon does not have the legal effect of expunging a criminal record or of exoneration except in rare cases based upon innocence, according to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. This means the Tulia residents will still have records that say they were convicted on the charges.

This leads to the question: what exactly do these pardons accomplish? I guess, though the story doesn't say, that this means the defendants, all of whom are now out of jail, will not be retried. That's a big deal, sure, but that felony drug conviction on their records is a pretty big deal, too. At least the pardon means they're now eligible to vote again. I'm still worried that having the conviction on their records will negatively affect their lives, though.

Walt said the governor's office reviewed each case individually and noted that there were three Tulia cases not eligible for pardons.

Two of those already had been dismissed while a third defendant, Lawanda Smith, had agreed to deferred adjudication, a form of voluntary probation.

Fourteen of those convicted in the Tulia busts had served up to four years in prison before their release was ordered in June.

Forty-six defendants, thirty five pardons, three ineligible for pardons. What about the other eight? Why weren't they pardoned? Again, the story doesn't say.

Don't get me wrong - I'm happy that Governor Perry took this necessary step. I'm just left with some questions that I'd really like answered.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 23, 2003 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack