Who gets a pardon? Christie can wipe out a criminal conviction with stroke of a pen
In the coming months, Gov. Chris Christie is expected to get more than a hundred requests for pardons from convicted criminals, but only a handful of individuals will ultimately have their records wiped clean.
It’s a long and complicated process.
People who want to be considered for pardon must first fill out a form with the Department of Corrections Pardon Clemency Unit.
After that, the forms are sent to the governor’s office, where they get an initial review.
From that batch, the most promising and compelling cases are identified and then reviewed more in-depth, and those cases are referred to the governor’s deputy chief counsel, who may initiate background checks, review recommendation letters, and follow up with phone interviews with the individuals under consideration.
Christie can only address convictions in state court. So, federal convictions — like the kind his former allies and confidants received last year in the Bridgegate and Port Authority scandals — are outside is purview.
Most of the cases that pass initial muster involve nonviolent crimes, frequently drug possession cases, and these are stories of individuals who have made extraordinary efforts to turn their lives around.
After that, a candidate list will be presented to Christie for his consideration, usually a couple of times a year, and then another in-person interview will follow for those candidates who make the final cut.
Christie said he takes into account a number of factors when reviewing the final list, including “how the person’s lived their life since they committed the crimes, what was the nature of the crime they committed in the first place, what kind of letters and commendations of support they have in favor of the pardon.”
Christie said he tries to get a complete picture, a holistic view of each individual’s life.
‘It’s the most amazing authority you have as governor, because it’s you and you alone. It’s very broad, there’s not a whole lot of requirements on it, and you just get to get there, get a feel for it.
Christie confirmed he’s pardoned about five individuals every year since he’s been governor, and the people who usually get pardoned committed nonviolent drug-related crimes.
“I’m looking to reward people who have turned their lives around. It’s the philosophy of everybody deserves a second chance,” he said.
Nine of his pardons went to people convicted of gun offenses, mostly out-of-state people who ran afoul of New Jersey's strict gun laws.
In December, Christie pardoned Nathan Clark, a Louisville, Kentucky, resident who was arrested while driving through New Jersey with a legally registered firearm.
He also pardoned former Navy seaman Carlos Martinez, now working as a psychotherapist, who committed crimes in the 1980s to support his drug habit; Florida resident Dwayne Powell, who committed nonviolent crimes in the 1990s before joining the Navy, and now wants to be a cop; and retired ironworker Michael Mears, who overcame his drug addiction and now helps others do the same.
“If you’re really made efforts to turn your life around and you’re living a good, productive, worthwhile life and you still have this past mistake hanging over you, the ability for a governor to lift that off of you is both a pretty awesome power, and I think a pretty great gift that you can give somebody for a life well lived," Christie said last week.
He noted people who commit sex crimes, armed robbery or murder would usually never be in the running for a possible pardon, but he won’t rule anything out.
“I try not to say that there’s none that I will absolutely would not consider. I won’t say impossible, because there can be people who turn their lives around in that regard as well, and oftentimes you’ll see that even the victim’s family sometimes come in and are supportive of some of those,” he said.
He added for every situation, “I want to read them, review them, but I’m much less likely to do that (pardon someone) than I would be on the nonviolent crimes.”
“I believe that every life is a precious gift from God, and that because of that, none of us are beyond redemption. That’s something that my religion teaches me, but that’s also something I believe spiritually on my own, absent my Catholicism.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.
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