In the holiday spirit of forgiveness, Gov. Jerry Brown announced pardons on Tuesday for 127 people.
Everyone getting their names cleared finished serving their time more than a decade ago and has stayed out of trouble since, according to Brown’s office. The clemency messages also testified that the people in question had become upstanding citizens who “exhibited good moral character” and “lived an honest and upright life.”
“Pardons are not granted unless they are earned,” said a message from Brown’s office announcing the pardons.
Most of the individuals receiving full and unconditional pardons had been convicted of drug-related offenses. Of the 127, 93 had been convicted of possessing, transporting or selling marijuana and other controlled substances. A few had been penalized for cultivating marijuana.
Robberies, burglaries and thefts accounted for most of the rest. In one instance, a man drunkenly “stole his neighbor’s lawn mower and some frozen food items,” according to the pardon message. A California woman burglarized a home “and took food to feed her children,” another message states.
A few other unusual crimes being pardoned included a woman who shot her boyfriend with a pellet gun following a fight, a man who stole some items from the yard of a recently deceased friend, and a man who didn’t pull over for the California Highway Patrol after running a red light.
Brown’s pardons included seven for people who were sentenced for their crimes in the Sacramento region. Andrew Vincent Hader, Thomas Kay Hamada, Mason Morris Jones III, Brian John Kulpa, Sam Edward Vaccaro, all of whom were sentenced between 1985 and 1999 in Sacramento for various drug crimes, received pardons.
Richard Tyrone Bilby, sentenced to probation in 1995 in Placer County for possession of a controlled substance, also received a pardon. And Brown pardoned David Baxter, who was sentenced to probation in 1991 for corporal injury to a spouse.
Because the pardoned people had already completed their sentences, and in many cases also secured a court-issued certificate of rehabilitation, the pardons are largely a symbolic matter.
There are some consequences. The California Department of Justice and the FBI are informed of the pardons so they can change their records, entitling pardon recipients to benefits like being allowed to work as parole officers or serve on juries and becoming eligible, in some cases, to possess firearms.
The number of people receiving pardons just before Christmas fell one short of the total number of pardons Brown handed down in 2012. Brown pardoned 128 convicted criminals in 2012, 79 of them on Christmas Eve, a marked increase from the 21 pardons he issued in 2011.
Brown has proved to be more merciful than his immediate predecessors: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pardoned 16 people during his entire seven-year tenure, while Gov. Gray Davis did not grant a single pardon in nearly five years.
The gubernatorial pardons came several days after President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates serving long terms for crack-cocaine related offenses, Obama’s latest effort to soften harsh drug-related penalties.