As clock runs out on his term, Baldacci grants final pardons

Posted Jan. 05, 2011, at 4:02 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 05, 2011, at 8:57 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Two foreign-born men slated for deportation were among more than 20 people who were granted pardons in the waning days of Gov. John Baldacci’s term in office.

Both men — Touch Rin Svay of Portland and Paul Blakesley of Massachusetts — likely were spared from having to return to their birth countries after spending the vast majority of their lives in Maine or the United States. The prospects of deportation were key factors in Baldacci’s decision, according to the former governor’s office.

“Neither of these men would have received pardons had they not been facing deportation to countries in which they have no ties or connections and if the consequences of that deportation would not have added new victims to their cases,” Baldacci said in a statement.

“I have considered these pardons carefully, over a long period of time, and believe they serve the best interest of justice,” said the Democratic governor, whose eight-year term in the Blaine House ended Wednesday.

Svay’s case was the last pardon signed by Baldacci on his final day in office — more than five years after the Cambodian native first requested clemency from the governor.

Svay was born in a Cambodian refugee camp, emigrated to the U.S. as a small child and later served in the U.S. Marines. But he was threatened with deportation after a manslaughter conviction stemming from a 2001 drunken driving crash that killed his sister, according to news reports.

Baldacci was within days of granting a pardon back in 2004 when Svay was arrested for violating the conditions of his probation. Baldacci put the decision on hold and has been monitoring Svay’s compliance with the law since.

In announcing the pardon, Baldacci’s office pointed out that Svay did not speak or write the language of his native Cambodia and that his parents were persecuted while living there.

“Rin committed a terrible crime, one that took the life of his sister,” Baldacci said in a statement. “But he has, over the last five years, demonstrated a commitment to atone for his error. He has complied with the terms of his sentence, and has turned his life around.”

Baldacci added, however, that Svay still has an obligation to be involved in the lives of his sister’s two children. He has apparently also agreed to participate in anti-drunken driving education courses.

Blakesley was convicted of burglary in 1993 and then for marijuana cultivation in both 2001 and 2003. The convictions were not discovered until 2006, however, when he filed to replace his permanent residency card, according to a March 2010 article in the Kennebec Journal.

He sought relief from the courts in 2009 and 2010 but was ultimately denied relief from the Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court.

Blakesley’s pardon, which was granted Dec. 29, does not automatically spare him from deportation. He must petition the federal government to allow him to remain in the United States rather than be forced to move back to the United Kingdom.

Additionally, a conditional pardon granted to Blakesley states that he cannot be convicted of any other misdemeanors or felonies and must stay clear of drugs. And because Blakelsey was not pardoned for a felony conviction, he will be prohibited from possessing firearms and faces other lingering repercussions.

In his statement, Baldacci said, “The punishment of deportation does not fit the crimes” for which Blakesley was convicted.

“Since his last conviction, he has stopped using or growing drugs, and he has married and started a family,” Baldacci said. “There has also been an outpouring of community support for his pardon. Paul Blakesley has fulfilled the terms of his punishment. To either break up a family or force his wife and child to join him in an-other country is too extreme.”

Maine’s Constitution grants governors the power to pardon or commute the sentences of any individual except those who have been impeached from office or for other specific reasons, such a conviction of operating under the influence of intoxicants.

In many cases, pardons are granted to individuals who committed nonviolent crimes in their late teens or early 20s and have avoided trouble with the law since. These might include an 18- or 19-year-old convicted of burglary or drug offenses who are still living with the stigma and legal consequences of being a convicted felon.

Receiving a pardon does not wipe a person’s record clean, however. Instead, pardoned offenses become “nonconvictions” and that information is available only under certain circumstances.

In order to help process the hundreds of requests received annually, a three-member Governor’s Board of Executive Clemency reviews each case and decides whether to grant a public hearing.

While the board makes recommendations, the governor is the only person who can choose to grant or deny requests for pardons or commutations of sentences.

Baldacci granted pardons to 51 of the 193 individuals who requested clemency in 2010 — more than in any other year of his administration, according to figures supplied by the Blaine House. Some of those individuals received pardons for multiple convictions.

Baldacci pardoned nearly two dozen individuals since Dec. 28. The 2010 figure is up from just eight people who were pardoned in 2009. But throughout his administration, Baldacci pardoned, on average, 17 people a year.

Due to the transition to a new administration and the way the information was summarized in pre-2000 documents supplied by the Secretary of State’s Office, it was difficult to determine precisely how Baldacci compared with past governors when it came to pardons.

The Baldacci administration said Gov. Angus King pardoned, on average, 18 individuals each year during his final three years in office.

For his entire eight-year administration, King appears to have granted more than 130 pardon requests, with some individuals receiving multiple pardons, according to information supplied by the Secretary of State’s Office, which handles clemency requests.

During his eight years in office, Gov. Joseph Brennan approved about 300 requests for pardons and commutations, according to Bangor Daily News articles from the 1994 campaign.

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