Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Trivialized Use of Presidential Pardon Power Continues Under Obama

After almost two years in office, President Obama finally granted his first pardons on December 3, 2010 – all nine of them – barely avoiding George W. Bush’s record for the longest delay by a president in granting clemency.

Each of the nine pardons were for very old, minor offenses, continuing a trend toward limiting the use of the president’s pardon power, which is the last hope for many prisoners serving lengthy federal sentences.

Ronald Lee Foster, one of the lucky few who received a pardon from Obama, was convicted in 1963 of mutilating U.S. currency. While serving in the military, Foster cut pennies down to the size of dimes so he could use them in vending machines.

“We cut the lip off [the pennies], and we were using them in the barracks only, in the vending machines. Washing machines, cigarette machines, pop machines,” he said. “Back then, a pack of cigarettes cost 20 or 30 cents a pack, so you could get a pack for 3 cents.”
Foster was placed on a year of probation and ordered to pay a $20 fine. He submitted his application for a pardon in 2005 after being denied a gun permit due to his decades-old federal conviction.

Four of Obama’s other pardons involved cocaine-related offenses, each occurring in the 1980s or early 1990s. Very few of the nine individuals who were granted a pardon had served any time in prison for their crimes; in fact, six had received probation.

“The president was moved by the strength of the applicants’ post-conviction efforts at atonement, as well as their superior citizenship and individual achievements in the years since their convictions,” stated White House spokesman Reid Cherlin.

Samuel Morrison, a former attorney with the Office of the Pardon Attorney, said the pardons granted by Obama were consistent with the “conservative” approach taken by the Department of Justice under former President George W. Bush.

“While I’m sure the grantees are all grateful, as they should be, this reflects the department’s continuing program to reserve pardon only for old and minor offenses, as they did in the Bush administration, as opposed to anyone who can demonstrate genuine rehabilitation and/or need for relief,” Morrison observed.

In October and November 2010, Obama denied 1,157 petitions for commutation of sentence and another 131 pardon requests. Prior to his granting the nine pardons late last year, he had granted more pardons to turkeys (two, both at Thanksgiving) than to people petitioning for clemency.

Sources: Associated Press,, USA Today

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login