Rare Redemption

Reflections arise on clemency process in wake of Hickenlooper’s 22 pardons

On the eve of his final year in office, Gov. John Hickenlooper has granted pardons to 22 people convicted of crimes in Colorado. Among them is Wayne Thomas, a man who served a sentence for aggravated robbery committed at age 17 and went on to receive a doctorate. The announcement, an infrequent use by Hickenlooper of his power to grant clemency, has brought insights about the accessibility of the process and potential overhauls, such as how frequently governors should grant them.

A few experts say clemency is a powerful tool with great potential for positive impact that lies not in its influence on future decisions, but in setting an example that people convicted of crimes can redeem themselves through the process.

“I do think that it takes guts and political courage to use the pardon process the way that it was intended, and the way it should be used,” said George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th Judicial District. He explained he has seen governors typically wait until the end of their time in office to grant pardons because they carry political risk of a pardoned person reoffending.

While Brauchler clarified that he thinks pardons should still be rare and reserved for those who go above and beyond to earn it, he said he believes a governor should instead exercise his or her pardon power earlier and more regularly during his or her term because it sends a message to convicted felons that redemption is possible after hard work to prove oneself.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the December 4, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.