EXCLUSIVE: Governor pardons fewer criminals than predecessors

Published: Nov. 12, 2014 at 10:12 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 12, 2014 at 11:43 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. Neil Abercrombie has pardoned significantly fewer criminals than his three most recent predecessors, according to records obtained by Hawaii News Now.

Early in his professional career, Abercrombie was a probation officer, and as governor he rarely used his power to pardon people from crimes they committed years ago.

"While you can't deny that you were arrested, you can say 'Well I was arrested, I was convicted, I did my time or a paid my fine, but the governor has pardoned me,'" said defense attorney Brook Hart , who's sought pardons for numerous clients over the years.

Hart said convicted criminals still have to list their convictions on job applications but a pardon could help them find a job.

"But I think an employer's response to the application of a person who can also say 'Yes, but the governor has also pardoned me' is likely to be more favorable," Hart added.

As of Sept. 22, Abercrombie pardoned 33 people since he took office four years ago. The final number may rise since he can still pardon people until he leaves office on Dec. 1.

That's far fewer than Republican Linda Lingle, who over two four-year terms pardoned 132 people, 55 of them in her last year in office alone.

Fellow Democrats Ben Cayetano and John Waihee also pardoned significantly more people than Abercrombie during their two terms. Cayetano had 204 and Waihee granted 115 pardons. In his last year in office, Cayetano pardoned 78 people, more than double the pardons Abercrombie has granted in the last four years.

In a statement, Abercrombie said, "My work as a probation officer instilled in me a respect for and commitment to the pardon process as followed in Hawaii. It is not a question of numbers, but thoughtful consideration case by case."

Records showed most of Abercrombie's pardons were for non-violent crimes such as theft and promoting dangerous drugs. But there were a few assault cases.

Most of the pardons were for crimes decades old, from the 1970's, 80's and early 90's. The oldest pardon approved by Abercrombie was for a theft case from 1958, a crime that happened the year before Hawaii became a state.

Most of these people have long ago served prison time or paid their fines and restitution.

Hart said only about half of the pardon applications are initially approved by the state's parole board. The surviving applications are sent to the Public Safety Department and the Attorney General where more cases are weeded out before the governor gets the surviving applications and makes the final decision on who gets a pardon, state officials said.

"I am only the last stop in a process initiated by those requesting a pardon, which first goes to the Attorney General's Office, the Department of Public Safety and the Hawaii Paroling Authority," Abercrombie said.

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