When people in Wisconsin are convicted of crimes, they may face a variety of responses from the State. In many situations, individuals are sent to jail or prison. However, Wisconsin's governor has the authority to pardon individuals. In the past, Wisconsin's governors have collectively pardoned hundreds of individuals who were convicted of crimes ranging from welfare fraud to arson.
When an individual is pardoned, he or she may be able to run for office, possess firearms and hold licenses. Although pardoning has been a common practice, Wisconsin's current governor told people who are seeking clemency that they are "fully and unconditionally out of luck."
A spokesperson for Gov. Scott Walker said the governor is not planning on issuing any pardons at this time. He added that the governor "believes these decisions are best left up to the courts."
Aside from that statement, it is not entirely clear why there have not been any pardons. In 1980, Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus created the Pardon Advisory Board. The board is responsible for reviewing pardon applications, screening applicants and making recommendations to the governor.
Gov. Walker, however, has not appointed anyone to the board, and this is the first time since 1980 that the board has not been in operation. Moreover, his spokesperson said that Walker has no intention of appointing anyone to the board.
Although Walker has said several times that he does not have any intention of issuing pardons, his website still includes information about applying for pardons. In addition, although Walker is not using the Pardon Advisory Board, his legal team reviews the applications and looks for extenuating circumstances -- though they still have no intention of pardoning individuals.
Naturally, most constituents who have heard about Walker's lack of pardoning are unhappy. One professor described the action as "the neglect of a constitutional duty of governor." The governor went on to question what would happen if there was an individual who, by all reasonable measures, deserved a pardon. The professor concluded, "There's no one there do it."
To clarify, when we talk about neglecting his duty to pardon, it's important to understand that his decision impacts hundreds of lives. In 2010, for example, Gov. Doyle issued 177 pardons, and that figure is not exorbitant.
One criminal defense attorney said the pardons can address unintended consequences of convictions. As the laws change, penalties often become more severe. People who were convicted of minor drug crimes may now be prevented from receiving federal aid to attend school, thereby denying the individuals the chance to become more valuable members of society.
The lawyer stated, "The courts can't correct that. The court has no authority to vacate it or change it, but the governor does, and that's part of the constitutional arrangement we have; that's part of the checks and balances."
Source: Green Bay Press Gazette, "Wisconsin governor has granted no pardons; has no plans to do so," Ben Jones, Nov. 27, 2011