Obama Issues First Pardons

Just last week, I noted that President Obama was distinguishing himself by going through the first 18 months of his Presidency without granting a single Presidential pardon or request for Executive clemency. That situation was rectified earlier this week:

WASHINGTON — President Obama, who had gone nearly 700 days without using his clemency power, finally issued nine pardons on Friday afternoon to a very minor rogue’s gallery of small-time felons who long ago did their time, if they did any at all.

Far from sending a message about the excesses and errors of the judicial system, Obama picked minor and sometimes ancient offenses — such as a 1963 conviction for “mutilation of coins” — to forgive. He also chose not to commute any sentences at all.

P.S. Ruckman Jr., the editor of the Pardon Power blog and a political science professor in Illinois, told HuffPost he was struck by the minor nature of the crimes that Obama selected.

“Six out of the nine pardons are for people who didn’t even go to prison,” he said.

Some observers had hoped that, as a constitutional lawyer by training and the first African-American president, Obama might issue pardons and commutations that made a powerful statement about the justice system past and present.

But expectations diminished as the days and months went by, and Obama became the second-slowest president to issue a pardon at all. He was about two weeks away from surpassing even George W. Bush, who pardoned seven people just before Christmas of his second year.

“You can decrease the significance of the pardon power by not using it, that’s one way to do it,” Ruckman said. “The other way to decrease its significance is to basically use it on behalf of the people who need it the least.”

And that seems to be what Obama is doing, just based on the list of the people who were pardoned:

• James Bernard Banks – Liberty, Utah Offense: Illegal possession of government property; 18 U.S.C. § 641. Sentence: Oct. 31, 1972; District of Utah; two years of probation.

• Russell James Dixon – Clayton, Ga.
Offense: Felony liquor law violation; 26 U.S.C. § 5604(a)(1).
Sentence: June 23, 1960; Northern District of Georgia; two years of probation.

• Laurens Dorsey – Syracuse, N.Y.
Offense: Conspiracy to defraud the United States by making false statements to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; 18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1001.
Sentence: Aug. 31, 1998; District of New Jersey; five years of probation and $71,000 restitution.

• Ronald Lee Foster – Beaver Falls, Penn.
Offense: Mutilation of coins; 18 U.S.C. § 331.
Sentence: Oct. 4, 1963; Eastern District of North Carolina; one year of probation and $20 fine.

• Timothy James Gallagher – Navasota, Texas
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cocaine; 21 U.S.C. § 846.
Sentence: Oct. 18, 1982; District of Arizona; three years of probation.

• Roxane Kay Hettinger – Powder Springs, Ga.
Offense: Conspiracy to distribute cocaine; 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846.
Sentence: March 31, 1986; Northern District of Iowa; 30 days in jail followed by three years of probation.

• Edgar Leopold Kranz Jr. – Minot, N.D.
Offense: Wrongful use of cocaine, adultery and writing three insufficient fund checks; Articles 112a and 134, Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Sentence: Sept. 14, 1994, as approved Nov. 4, 1994; General court-martial convened at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii; bad conduct discharge (suspended), 24 months of confinement and reduction to pay grade E-1.

• Floretta Leavy – Rockford, Ill.
Offense: Distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute; 21 U.S. C. §§ 841(a)(1), (a)(2) and 846, 18 U.S.C. § 2.
Sentence: Oct. 19, 1984; District of Kansas; one year and one day in prison and three years of special parole.

• Scoey Lathaniel Morris – Crosby, Texas
Offense: Passing counterfeit obligations or securities; 18 U.S.C. §§ 472 and 2.
Sentence: May 21, 1999; Western District of Texas; three years of probation and $1,200 restitution, jointly and severally.

Considering the number of people sitting in Federal prisons right now on drug possession charges that are subject to the Federal government’s absurd mandatory minimum prison sentences, one would have hoped that the President would’ve had more courage in this exercise of his Constitutional power.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Boyd says:

    Why were these people selected? What is it about them that convinced the Obama Administration that they were most in need of pardons?

  2. My guess is that it can be summed up in two words politically safe

  3. Mithras says:

    Right. What possible political benefit could a Democratic President get from pardoning anyone with a drug conviction? It’s just handing the Republicans a cudgel to beat up all congressional Democrats and Obama with. The Right makes exercising common sense impossible.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    A quick check of some of the pardonees reveals that a number of them were long-term federal employees. I suspect that the reason they were pardoned is a little like the reason people are canonized: persistent advocacy by organizations that support them.