Scott Walker is the first Wisconsin governor who has stated that he will not pardon a single person during his governorship. He is not only alone in his position among former Wisconsin governors; he is alone nationally as well. Walker told WKOW-TV, “The only people seeking pardons are people who are guilty and I don't have any reason to undermine the criminal justice system." Since taking office in 2011, he has not pardoned a single person nor has he appointed any members to the Pardon Advisory Board.
Democratic and Republican governors of Wisconsin have issued pardons during their terms — from Tommy Thompson to Scott McCallum to Jim Doyle. In 1996, Thompson pardoned Chippewa Falls native Harold Stafford, who had a felony conviction for delivery of cocaine. Stafford reformed himself by graduating from college and becoming a deacon at a local church as well as a drug and alcohol counselor. Eventually, Stafford graduated from law school and practiced law with a focus on helping the less fortunate.
A pardon is an official act that restores a person’s rights lost due to a felony conviction. Pardoning a person in no way undermines the criminal justice system, unless the governor believes that the Wisconsin Constitution undermines it. The power to pardon is granted to the governor and enshrined in our constitution in Article V, Section 6. Pardoning is part and parcel of our system of justice, as it affords people who have reformed their lives a measure of justice that the courts cannot provide.
In Wisconsin, a pardon does not erase a conviction. Instead, a pardon restores rights to a person, such as the rights to possess firearms, hold public office, become a police officer, and work in certain medical fields.
One of the valid criticisms of the pardoning power is that it is subject to political influence, but that is not a reason to refuse to consider any pardons. It is an incentive for governors to carefully select the people they pardon.
Walker has stressed another reason for refusing to pardon anyone. He indicates that the courts have ways of dealing with people who are innocent. The point of a pardon, however, is not to say that the person being pardoned is innocent. Rather, pardons are an act by the governor to forgive a person for a past transgression in cases where the person has truly reformed and led an exemplary life since a felony conviction.
By refusing to even consider pardoning anyone, Walker is putting aside an important constitutional power and missing an opportunity to give worthy, rehabilitated people a second chance. Take, for example, Marine combat veteran Eric Pizer of Madison. WKOW-TV recently ran a story entitled “Marine Corps veteran’s bid for pardon” that should make the governor reconsider his position on pardons. Pizer was twice deployed to the Middle East, having volunteered for his second tour of duty in Iraq. He valiantly and honorably served his country, encountering rocket-propelled grenades and leading a group of Marines into battle. Now Pizer has returned home and wants nothing more than to serve his community as a police officer. Unfortunately, he is prevented from doing so due to a 2004 felony conviction arising from a single punch in a bar fight. That conviction means that he can never possess or own a firearm (and therefore cannot be a police officer) — unless he is pardoned.
There is no mechanism for restoring Pizer’s right to possess or own a firearm other than a pardon. If anyone is deserving of a pardon for one bad decision (one punch at a bar), surely this former combat Marine should be considered, given his otherwise clean record and noble service to the country.
I urge Walker to exercise his important constitutional power if there is a compelling case like Eric Pizer’s.
Casey J. Hoff is a criminal defense attorney based in Sheboygan.