Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Pardon Me

Posted by Maggie on December 13, 2007

Often, I don’t think people really understand criminal convictions. I first learned this when I worked with prison inmates who weren’t US citizens who were discovering for the first time that they’d be deported because of their crime and there was nothing we could do to help. Many of them had lived in the US since they were infants and never really got around to citizenship. Or when people go to pay speeding tickets without realizing the points accumulating until they’re pulled over for driving on a suspended license.

It doesn’t really matter whether they’re people who never expect to have a run-in with law enforcement. People who have family members in jail think of a probation sentence too lightly. People who are in trouble for the first time are just trying to get it over with. But it’s amazing how much of an impact that one small guilty plea can have on your life.

I’m thinking about this because Bush put out his year-end pardons. One is a Georgia man, Daniel Freeman, who got in trouble for making “moonshine” back in 1963. It was a felony, but he didn’t serve any jail time. A lot of things require background checks. And lots of permits have restrictions if there is a criminal history, although many of them are kind enough to give you the benefit of a doubt if it’s been 10 years or more. Not so for Freeman, when FBI and ATF showed up to his pawn shop. He couldn’t buy guns to add to the shop inventory because of the conviction that was more than 40 years old. You can imagine the effect it had on his business.

I wish we lived in the kind of society where old ills are automatically forgiven, especially when it’s the last trouble a person ever encounters. One of the best things I heard in my days as a PD was that no person should be judged on the basis of the worst thing they’ve ever done. I firmly believe that, we all have our weaknesses and errors, and many of us are lucky enough to not have to be punished by the government for those weaknesses. It also speaks to the need to continue with intervention and diversion programs so people can live their lives after that stupid mistake.

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