MADISON — Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has issued criminal pardons at a torrid pace since he announced he would not seek re-election, granting more in 12 months than former Gov. Tommy Thompson did in seven years, records show.
Doyle’s pardons during the last year mostly have involved low-profile ex-convicts who committed crimes years ago. Still, Republicans accused him of using his pardon power irresponsibly. Taken with Doyle’s early release prison project, the number of pardons shows the governor has gone soft on crime, said Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, former chairman of the Assembly’s Criminal Justice and Homeland Security Committee.
“He is clearing their record. He is giving them a blank slate,’’ Suder said. “It should be a rarity to grant pardons. Jim Doyle is just handing pardons out like they were candy.’’
Suder represents the 69th Assembly District, which includes Boyd and Stanley in Chippewa County.
Doyle has granted 85 pardons between Aug. 17, 2009, when he announced he would not seek re-election, and early August of this year, according to records obtained by The Associated Press under the state open records law. That amounts to a little more than a third of the 214 pardons Doyle has issued since he took office in 2003.
People are also reading…
Thompson, a Republican, granted 62 pardons from 1994 through 1999. Records showed he granted no pardons in 2000, his last full year in office. His successor, Republican Scott McCallum, issued two dozen pardons from 2001 through 2002.
Doyle spokesman Adam Collins said the number of pardon applications being submitted has grown dramatically. Doyle’s office had received nearly 600 pardon requests from the beginning of the year through Oct. 4, double the number of applications during the first nine months of last year and three times as many as during the first nine months of 2008.
He stressed Doyle has not commuted any criminal’s sentence since he took office.
“A pardon does not shorten someone’s sentence or erase what’s going on,’’ Collins said. “These are incidents that happened years and years ago when people were young. Governor Doyle is a longtime prosecutor. He’s always been very judicious with pardons.’’
The Wisconsin Constitution grants the governor the power to pardon anyone convicted of a felony in Wisconsin. A pardon restores an ex-convict’s lost rights, such as the ability to possess firearms, hold public office and hold various licenses such as alcohol and tobacco licenses. It doesn’t overturn a conviction or expunge, erase or seal a person’s case.
However, the public record reflects the pardon, making the ex-convict a more appealing hire and restoring the right to hunt with a gun, a precious right in Wisconsin where hunting traditions run deep.
Generally, applicants make their case to the state Pardon Advisory Board, which consists of gubernatorial appointees. The board weighs factors including severity of the offense, time that has passed since it occurred, prosecutors’ opinions and the applicant’s history, before voting on whether to recommend a pardon. The governor makes the final decision.
Doyle has set a policy requiring ex-convicts to wait at least five years before making an initial request. Anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor, can’t wait five years or still is incarcerated can seek a waiver to become eligible for a pardon.
The AP reviewed pardon records from the governor’s office, the state Senate chief clerk’s office and the state Legislative Reference Bureau dating back to 1994.
They showed Doyle, a former state attorney general who portrayed himself as a tough crime fighter, issued a total of 63 pardons from 2003 through 2007, never granting more than 18 a year.
Those numbers ticked upward in 2008. He granted 35 pardons that year. In June 2009, the same year he signed a state budget that created a new early release program for prison inmates, he issued 51 pardons, including 20 after he declared on Aug. 17 he would not seek a third term. Since the beginning of 2010 he’s issued 65 more pardons.
The 85 applicants granted pardons since Aug. 17, 2009, appear to be mostly small-time criminals. They include former burglars, drug users and drug dealers. One pardon went to a man convicted of sexually assaulting a child in 1995. The charges resulted from a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship when they were both in their teens. The girl’s mother submitted a letter to the pardons board supporting clemency.
The oldest crime was committed in 1958; the most recent was committed in 2001.
Tony Gibart, policy coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said he didn’t see any abuse of power, noting each case is different.
“The important point is the pardon process, whether it’s being exercised by a Republican or Democrat or independent, is designed so mitigating factors and one’s history and record after a conviction can be considered and there is some remedy or recourse for those individuals,’’ Gibart said. “It’s something that can be of tremendous value.’’
With no re-election to worry about, Doyle is free to shift from his conservative stances to his liberal roots, said University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee political scientist Mordecai Lee, a former Democratic state legislator.
“When voters make politicians lame ducks, they can show more of their true colors,’’ Lee said. “Wisconsin poli