Updated: January 21, 2021 10:24 PM
Created: January 21, 2021 10:07 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In one of his final moves, former President Donald Trump issued a flurry of last minute pardons, including for some very controversial figures.
In New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has her own pardon power – and so far, she’s used it 10 times more than her predecessor.
SEEKING A PARDON
Byron Marshall, 46, is one of a dozen New Mexicans recently granted a pardon by the governor.
“It’s probably one of the most emotional calls I’ve ever gotten,” said Marshall.
His crime? Fraud back in 2003.
“I worked for a cell phone provider—and to pad my numbers I use accounts without authorization. It's considered a fourth degree felony. I did it to several accounts,” said Marshall.
He spent 90 days in jail for it and the conviction changed the course of his life.
“In hindsight, I was like… what the hell were you thinking? I mean, looking back, it was one of the dumbest things I've ever done. We all make mistakes. But this mistake literally cost me part of my future,” said Marshall.
Marshall has held a variety of jobs over the years, most recently working at an oil field in southeast New Mexico. However, it hasn’t been easy given his felony record.
“I’ve been denied so many jobs, I’ve turned down so many jobs because I know what my background was,” said Marshall.
Seeking a fresh start, he applied for clemency with the governor’s office. He received a pardon letter from the governor earlier this month, restoring his civil rights.
For convicts who have already served their time, the governor’s pardon power can restore voting rights, restore the right to own a firearm and hold elected office. The pardon is noted in the person’s criminal record, which still reflects the conviction.
“Once you make a mistake. Once you pay your time in restitution, whether it be in jail, or fines or probation… It shouldn't be a lifelong slam against you,” said Marshall.
REVAMPING THE PARDON PROCESS
Marshall applied for clemency twice with the Martinez administration and twice he was denied. However, the process changed when Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham took office.
“I think it’s an act of mercy,” said Tripp Stelnicki, communications director for the governor.
“The governor's approach is one of really recognizing rehabilitation and sort of honoring that for the small number of people who have gone through this process and applied and been recommended by the parole board,” said Stelnicki.
Since Governor Lujan Grisham took office, she has granted 31 pardons to convicted felons who have already served their time. That’s a dramatic increase compared to her Republican predecessor Susana Martinez who issued just 3 pardons during her eight years as governor.
To date, Governor Lujan Grisham’s office has handled 156 active applications to clemency.
NO INMATE RELEASES
So far, Governor Lujan Grisham’s use of her clemency powers have not led to the release of any inmates. However, through pardons, she has forgiven convicts for decades-old, mostly non-violent crimes, including: drug trafficking, forgery and fraud.
However, the governor’s communications director told 4 Investigates that Governor Lujan Grisham has not ruled out the possibility of using her clemency powers to release certain individuals who are currently incarcerated.
“I think it’s possible but the fact that it hasn’t happened, I would say, isn’t an indication that it won’t,” said Stelnicki.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued this statement following her first round of pardons last year: “"The power of executive clemency is an exercise in compassion... My administration will continue to evaluate all applicants in a responsible, methodical and even-handed manner.”
In the meantime, Byron Marshall is looking forward to his life post-pardon. He’s also hoping more people like him will be given the same chance.
“I want to see [the governor] give out 2000. I mean, there's so many people within this state, I'm not special. There's so many people within the state in the state of New Mexico, that deserve clemency, that deserve an opportunity to build a better life,” said Marshall.
ADVOCATING FOR MORE FREQUENT USE OF CLEMENCY
The ACLU of New Mexico has been calling for the governor to use her clemency power in other ways – to release certain inmates as a way to protect them from COVID-19 outbreaks at state prisons.
“The clemency power isn't just limited to full pardons, which is something maybe folks aren't as familiar with,” said Lalita Moskowitz, of the ACLU of New Mexico. “The clemency power can be used, for instance, to conditionally release someone from incarceration based on a severe medical condition or for other reasons, or can allow reprieve that isn't a full pardon.”
At the Roundhouse, state lawmakers are set to again consider legalizing recreational marijuana. Moskowitz see this as another opportunity to invoke clemency.
“I think we're talking about legalization of recreational marijuana, something that I would hope would be in the bill itself, and but I think could also be done by the governor would be to issue pardons for individuals who are serving prison time for possession of marijuana, for instance,” said Moskowitz.
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