White House explains why Obama can’t pardon ‘Making a Murderer’ subjects despite petition
The Netflix docuseries Making a Murderer has triggered an incredible response among viewers, enough that online petitions were created to get the film’s subjects, Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey, pardoned by U.S. President Obama.
The petitions, one housed on the U.S. government’s We The People website and the other on Change.org, garnered 129,823 and 355,089 signatures, respectively (as of this writing). On Jan. 8, The White House replied to the We The People petition, as it’s required to when petitions reach a threshold of at least 100,000 signatures.
Making a Murderer is a 10-part documentary series that follows the case of 53-year-old Wisconsin native Avery. He is serving a life sentence for the 2005 rape and murder of 25-year-old photographer Teresa Halbach. Avery, who had previously been jailed for 18 years for a sexual assault in 1985, was exonerated in that case by newly discovered DNA evidence in 2003.
Two years later, Avery brought a $36 million lawsuit against Manitowoc County, Wis, for the wrongful conviction. The series calls into question the investigation and trial that put Avery and his nephew, Dassey, behind bars, and alleges that the investigators and police in the case planted evidence and otherwise manipulated the outcome of the trial.
The We The People petition asks for President Obama to give a full pardon to both men, claiming they were wrongfully convicted. The reasoning of the petition is based primarily on evidence put forward in the docuseries, which found many alleged inconsistencies in the police investigation along with allegedly planted evidence.
In a statement, the White House said that President Obama did not have the power to free the men from prison.
This clemency authority empowers the President to exercise leniency towards persons who have committed federal crimes. Under the Constitution, only federal criminal convictions, such as those adjudicated in the United States District Courts, may be pardoned by the President. In addition, the President’s pardon power extends to convictions adjudicated in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and military court-martial proceedings. However, the President cannot pardon a state criminal offense.
Since Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey are both state prisoners, the President cannot pardon them. A pardon in this case would need to be issued at the state level by the appropriate authorities.
The statement goes on to explain further why the President isn’t able to pardon state prisoners, only federal ones. The White House did acknowledge the failings of the justice system in the past, and points out the 66 pardons President Obama has already given during his time in office.
It highlights the other initiatives President Obama has done in office, including the creation of a task force on 21st century policing, commuting the sentences of dozens of people sentenced under outdated and unfair drug laws, and an overall attempt to decrease the federal prison population.
Avery was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Dassey was also given a life sentence, but has a chance for early release in 2048.
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