New Mexico governor signals new approach to pardons

May 2, 2019
FILE - New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gives her State of the State address during the opening of the New Mexico legislative session at the state Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M. on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. Lujan Grisham on Thursday, April 25, 2019, announced her new appointments to the state racing commission, a regulatory panel that will decide whether to award the state's sixth and final license for a horse racetrack and casino. (AP Photo/Craig Fritz)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signaled a new and more holistic approach to evaluating requests for pardons and other forms of clemency in guidelines published Wednesday.

The changes provide the governor with greater flexibility and discretion in issuing pardons, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said.

They outline a gamut of pardon considerations including whether the applicant has demonstrated personal growth, shown remorse and participated in restorative justice initiatives — a catch phrase for organized attempts to repair harm to crime victims or society.

“The governor’s pardoning power should only be exercised when doing so is in the interests of justice and equity,” the guidelines state.

Lujan Grisham’s Republican predecessor, Susana Martinez, ruled out any clemency for people convicted of sexual offenses or repeatedly driving while intoxicated. The former prosecutor and death penalty proponent issued just three pardons during eight years in office.

No pardons have been granted since Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, took office Jan. 1. Holdover applicants have been encouraged to re-apply.

Santa Fe-based attorney Mark Donatelli, who provides post-conviction legal representation, said he is optimistic that greater consideration will be given in the state’s parole and pardon process to people who are serious about leading a law-abiding life.

Still, he was taking a wait-and-see approach, noting that Martinez took a prosecutorial stance under guidelines that were somewhat neutral.

The new guidelines do not specifically address the governor’s approach to pardon requests from nonviolent drug offenders, though Stelnicki said a shift can be expected.

Legislation signed by the governor in April reduces penalties for the possession of illegal drug paraphernalia or up to a half-ounce (14 grams) of marijuana to a petty misdemeanor and $50 fine on first offense.

The state has a medical cannabis program, but the state Senate balked this year at a proposal to authorize recreational marijuana sales.

Under the new clemency guidelines, applicants seeking to restore their right to bear arms must specifically make that request — a requirement also used by former Gov. Gary Johnson.

The governor has not yet appointed a director to the state Parole Board that provides recommendations on pardon applications.