JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi Supreme Court is being asked to determine whether a pardon by the governor should be grounds to wipe clean a criminal record.
The case centers on the claim of Rebecca Hentz, who was among dozens of people pardoned by Gov. Haley Barbour in 2012.
She pleaded guilty in 2000 to attempting to manufacture methamphetamine, a felony. Hentz was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment with all 30 years suspended. She applied for and was granted a complete and unconditional pardon by Barbour.
Armed with the pardon, she asked a Tallahatchie County judge to expunge her criminal record. The judge denied the request, saying state law does not allow expunction, or deletion, of her criminal record.
In court documents, Hentz’s attorney concedes state law does not expressly give a court authority to expunge a criminal record after a pardon by the governor.
“However, if it is the intent of a full, complete and unconditional pardon by the governor, to in essence restore a person to the status they occupied prior to their arrest and conviction, how can it be said that they are not entitled to have their record expunged?” wrote lawyer Tommy Defer, who represents Hentz.
Special Assistant Attorney General Lisa Blount said in a response that several laws provide for expunction of criminal records under limited circumstances. She said no state law provides for expunction upon the grant of an executive pardon.
“While the Mississippi Constitution vests the governor with the power to grant pardons, it does not address the effects of a pardon on the expungement of criminal records,” Blount said.
The case has been addressed before in Mississippi trial courts.
In 2013, a Warren County judge ruled state law does not allow expunction of criminal records for Clarence Jones, who pleaded guilty to murder in 1992 in the stabbing death of his ex-girlfriend.
Clarence Jones received an indefinite suspension of his life sentence in 2004 from Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and was released from prison. He had served as a trusty at the Governor’s Mansion. He was pardoned by Gov. Haley Barbour in 2008.
Jones’ attorney argued the judge had constitutional authority to grant the request. Prosecutors argued that people Jones deals with should have access to his record.
Jones’ appeal also is pending before the Supreme Court.
In Jones’ appeal, attorney Tom Fortner argues that if a governor’s constitutional power to pardon has meaning, it must reflect that all incidents of the conviction are obliterated. “A pardon without expungement is not a pardon,” Fortner argued.
The state’s response in the Jones case is similar to that in the Hentz case.
“Pardoned persons have never been a class eligible for expunction of one’s convictions or criminal record,” wrote Special Assistant Attorney General Billy Gore. “A pardon does not rewrite history by wiping out pre-existing facts. A pardon absolves but does not dissolve. A pardon is not plastic surgery. While it heals the wound, the scar remains,” he wrote.
As Barbour prepared to leave office in January 2012, he issued pardons, clemencies and other acts of leniency for more than 200 people, including Hentz.
While some of the actions drew uproar from advocates for crime victims and their families, Defer said in a court filing that Hentz’s case didn’t draw fire.
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