On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed 39 pardons, commutations, and medical reprieves of criminals who either have been or still are incarcerated.
Of the 39 signed on Tuesday, 22 were pardons, 13 were commutations, and 4 were medical reprieves caused by COVID-19 issues. 10 of the criminals are currently in federal immigration detention facilities facing deportation. Governor Newsom specifically noted the deportation issue in signing the pardons, noting that they would be disproportionate retribution compared to the crimes they committed.
“Their deportations would be an unjust collateral consequence that would harm their families and communities,” noted Newsom’s office in the pardons.
While the Governor’s office noted that pardons will not be able to erase convictions, they would largely remove the pardoned crimes from being used against them in a deportation ruling. One person pardoned on Tuesday, Somdeng Thongsy, had killed one person and injured two others in a gang related incident in 1997 and had been facing deportation back to Laos. However, Newsom’s pardon halted that.
Many others who were pardoned, including a 71-year-old serving a life sentence for stealing a VCR in 1995 as part of a “three strikes” ruling, were senior citizens. One criminal who was pardoned was 87 years old.
Most of the pardons were for drug-related crimes, such as marijuana-related convictions prior to legalization laws in California passed last decade.
Those who had sentences commuted, which means that they are currently in prison and can be fast-tracked to being paroled, were largely in prison due to murder, shootings, gang-related crimes, and assault.
One such criminal, James Jacobs, murdered someone outside a nightclub in 2004 at the age of 15. However, Newsom decided to commute his sentence based on his good behavior and his rehabilitation efforts in custodial maintenance.
Newsom has already pardoned more people in 22 months than Schwarzenegger did his entire tenure
“Many of these 39 people haven’t fully paid their debt to society,” Gordon Vasquez, a former Sheriff’s Deputy who now assists law firms and victims’ families in keeping criminals seeking parole in jail, told the Globe. “The reprieves are because of COVID-19, and it still means they need to serve their time elsewhere. Most victims and families of victims would be ok with that sort of thing.”
“But the pardons and commutations. Those are the ones that rip the heart of the victims, because they see justice suddenly end with a piece of paper.”
“And looking through the other cases, many do make sense. drug cases or robberies from the 1970’s like some of these cases. Hell, Newsom’s office even made a big deal of pardoning a woman who conspired to commit grand theft as being one of the few women to help build the Bay Bridge up in San Francisco and then lead city programs and now will be graduating Berkeley in a few years. Those types are hard to argue against, especially if they already served their time.”
“But the ones that make victims families call me at two in the morning crying are those that were released early for murder, or those that were serving life sentences being let out. So they got their GED and are leading the prison choir and are building up skills. It doesn’t change the fact that they committed those crimes, even if it was before 18. It doesn’t change the fact that some of these people killed other people, or assisted in killing others.”
“Notice on these pardons that they rarely, if ever, say that the victims families have forgiven them or approve of them being released early. It tells you a lot about any official who can grant these. And unfortunately they almost always tell you that they didn’t hear from the victim or the victim’s family when making the final decision.”
Since taking office in early 2019, Newsom has granted a total of 63 pardons, 78 commutations, and four reprieves, a figure which includes the 39 signings on Tuesday. This is far below the total of 1,189 criminals pardoned during former Governor Jerry Brown’s tenure, but also far more than the 15 pardons in total issued by former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger during his two terms and the 0 given by former Governor Gray Davis.
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