From the Winston-Salem Journal, Dec. 27
Published 9:01 pm Monday, December 31, 2007
People like Gary Don Holt should be able to get out and do a little hunting.
Holt, of High Point, is, however, a convicted felon, and under current federal law, he can’t even handle a gun legally unless he is pardoned for his 1986 marijuana-possession conviction. That should be easy, considering that Holt, a furniture warehouse supervisor, has been a good citizen since he broke the law as a 21-year-old and pleaded guilty.
That pardon, however, won’t come from Gov. Mike Easley who has denied all of Holt’s requests for mercy. It’s typical of Easley, who has pardoned only five former felons in his seven years in office. Former Gov. Jim Hunt, by comparison, pardoned more than 200 in his previous eight years.
Easley gets a great many requests for pardons, and he is probably justified in turning many of them down. Felony convictions are serious matters, and they carry lifetime consequences. One is that felons can’t legally handle a gun. Another is that they lose the right to vote in many states, and to serve on juries. Employers are often reluctant to hire or promote them.
Laws as they are written in statutes, however, are often too rigid for the myriad of circumstances in which humans find themselves. That’s why the governor has the power of the pardon. The chief executive is supposed to look at cases such as this and decide whether the system came down too harshly on an offender, considering circumstances. Or, whether something that has occurred since the conviction changes the situation.
The first thing we would have to question is whether people convicted 20 years ago of simple marijuana possession should carry the full set of legal restrictions that are leveled against felons. North Carolina’s laws have always been harsh in that regard.
The second thing is to consider a person’s overall contribution to society since the conviction. Twenty years is a long time to keep paying for a crime of this nature when someone has been a strong member of the community.
Easley’s reasoning for issuing so few pardons has not been explained. He not only refuses most pardons, he refuses to discuss why he doesn’t grant pardons. That his record stands in such contrast to Hunt’s — when Hunt was not soft on criminals — is disturbing, however.
As he enters his final year in office, Easley should consider using his authority to do what is just for some people. Holt is probably one of many who, on the merit of their circumstances, deserve a pardon and a chance to pursue all of the benefits of a society they have helped to build. He has paid for his crime, and he has contributed. It is time to be reasonable with him and, probably, some others.