Clemency Challenge Ahead for Governor Perdue

A pending US Supreme Court case could have disastrous consequences for justice and fairness in North Carolina.  It could also present our new governor, Beverly Perdue, with one of the greatest challenges of her tenure.

The issue in the case is whether federal courts are required to pay for lawyers in state clemency proceedings.   The Court’s decision in the case could coincide with the end of the judicially imposed moratorium on executions in North Carolina.  If the case loses, Governor Perdue might find herself confronted with an unprecedented number of clemency decisions to make – just as all of those inmates have lost their attorneys.

Clemency is vitally important because it is the last chance to prevent the execution of an innocent person or someone who for another reason should not be executed.  It is a non-legal proceeding that allows the governor to look at issues that might not have been presented in court.  Clemency can be granted on the grounds of justice and also on the basis of mercy.

In North Carolina, as in many states, the plea is made by the inmate’s lawyer directly to the governor.  If the governor decides to grant clemency, the inmate is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.   If not, he is executed.  Currently, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court, appoints and pays attorneys to prepare the clemency presentation.  There is no state funding for clemency.

In the case before the Court, two former NC governors, Jim Hunt (D) and Jim Martin (R), along with governors from other states, filed a “friends of the court” brief, urging the continued federal funding for attorneys to make clemency pleas.

Both governors granted and denied clemency requests during their tenures.  The governors’ brief discusses several cases, including the case of Anson Avery Maynard, to whom Governor Martin granted clemency, based on questions about who actually committed the killing.  The brief also emphasizes that there are many issues – beyond guilt or innocence – that deserve full investigation and presentation, and that are worthy of clemency, such as racial bias, mental illness and remorse.

Governor Martin and his staff spent days talking to witnesses, reviewing evidence and deciding whether to grant clemency to Maynard.  Given the volume of cases Governor Perdue may face, it is unlikely she will be able to devote a week to each one, but she can still be guided by her predecessors’ call to approach clemency hearings with the utmost seriousness and dedication to fairness.  The last thing we’d want to see is the execution of an innocent person because we didn’t have the resources or the time to discover the truth.

3 Comments

  1. faye

    February 19, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    I feel a committee should be put into place to take care of harsh sentences for non violent crimes. if this is done then the governor could just work on death stuff as to whether to grant clemency and put some of those people out of prison that are there for 10 and 15 years because they stole something.
    the prison system needs help really bad.

  2. Linda

    April 6, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    I agree with you Faye. My son is facing a sentence of 10 to 20 years because his wife had a gun in house and he was convicted of a felon over 20 years ago. Now they are going to charge them both and she has never been in trouble in her life. the prisons are full and they should be using this money to get hardened criminals off the street and not such a petty thing as this.

  3. Anonymous

    September 18, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    I agree with you both…My brother recently locked up for something he was forced into at gun point…Police said the gun was loaded an ready to fire at any moment so if he would have ran he could have cost his life…..He went along with the gun man into a store to rob them he did not partake in this robbery…..Although they found money inside his shirt I still to this day and forever will believe my brother is innocent…..I mean really if you had someone standing in front of you with a gun loaded aimed at you would you do what they say or take a chance at losing your life? Might I mention he has NEVER been in any trouble what so ever, I mean if we go back that far hes never even been suspended out of school……He graduated on time and was in college until he was locked up……….The court systems are NOT FAIR AT ALL!!!! You have real criminals out here that are doing this everyday….Why not have them locked up and put away instead of giving them chance after chance for them to go and commit another crime in the streets………..We have the worst court/judicial system in the country with the way they are doing things….