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I haven't done anything for you yet, and I'll let your man out so he can eat his Christmas dinner at home.” This, of course, is an extreme case and entirely out of the law of precedent, but it illustrates the fact that the Governors fully realized the impossibility of giving to these matters that investigation their importance demanded. How many times the prison doors have been opened for the release of a convict who received his freedom because the Executive had not yet done anything for the attorney who applied for the pardon—or how many times Executive clemency has been extended because the party who applied for it had been a faithful friend to the Governor at the polls or the primary, will never be known. The man is unworthy the most insignificant office who does not take into it his humanity, and if he is imposed upon, at times, by those whose very friendship should have been a barrier to any deception, he should not be blamed.
As early as January, 1884, at the banquet which closed the meeting of this Association, in Springfield, the then Governor, in responding to a toast, pointed out the impossibility of the Executive giving to the applications for pardon the attention which they should receive only as he neglected other duties. The burden of this work has been felt by every suc. ceeding Executive, but until 1897 no remedy was suggested. Another evil presented itself under the former system. The impression seemed to be that the Governor was always at Springfield and could be seen at any time. The public did not appear to know that the law required him to visit various State institutions and attend to other duties. The result was, that people would go from remote portions of the State to the capital only to find the Governor absent on official business. They would have to return home and again visit the capital, and then perhaps want a day or more before they could present their application. This was such a hardship that many a poor person has been unable to present a worthy case for consideration.
E. A. SNIVELY.
Governor Fifer, early in his administration, sought to remedy some of the difficulties by setting apart certain days for the sole purpose of hearing applications for pardon. This, however, did not seem to reduce the labor of his office as people continued to come at all times and the practice was, I believe, soon abandoned. Prior to his election, Governor Tanner had been for a quarter of a century closely identified with State affairs. He had filled several official positions, all of them bringing him into close relation with the various branches of the State government. It is no doubt true that by virtue of this experience he brought with him into the Executive office more general knowledge of State matters than did any of his predecessors. It was this knowledge that led him to recommend to the Legislature, in his inaugural address, the passage of a law providing for a State Board of Pardons, which law was passed and went into effect on the first of July, 1897.
The law prescribes the duties of the Board and requires it to examine all applications for pardon and commutation, and make recommendation to the Governor, who alone can take final action. The law most wisely precludes the Board from acting as a court of review, but it does not prevent it from examining the records of the trial courts with a view of ascer. taining therefrom, in connection with other evidence, if the prisoner is a proper subject for clemency.
The Board is organized on the same lines, and follows very much the practice prescribed by the Supreme and Appellate Courts. The rules provide for the filing of the petition accompanied by a statement from the trial judge and the State's Attorney, at least ten days before the first day of the term, at which the application is to be heard. This rule is made in order to enable the clerk of the Board to send to the various newspapers in the county where the crime was committed, a notice of the fact that the application is pending for the pardon of the prisoner. In addition to this, the three weeks'
notice required by the statute must also be given, unless, for proper reasons shown, the Board waives the notice. Twenty cases each day are called, and oral arguments are not only permitted but are encouraged. The Board exercises the right, when it deems it necessary, to make investigation of the previous character of the prisoner, and also to secure any information in regard to the crime that may aid in the proper recommendation to the Governor. The notices sent to the newspapers by the clerk are, in nearly every instance published, and there is no reason, therefore, why the community in which the crime was committed should not have full knowledge of the application, and enter protest against the same if it is desired.
It is the aim of the Board to steer entirely clear from all sickly sentimentality and favoritism, and to judicially decide all applications in the spirit which animated the framers of the constitution when they conferred upon the Executive the pardoning power.
The law provides for four meetings during the year, with power lodged in the Governor and chairman of the Board to call special meetings. By virtue of the stated terms, there is no disappointment as to the hearing of a case, and those seeking clemency are saved the annoyance and expense of frequent trips to the capital.
During the two years of the Board's existence it has considered more applications than have ever before been sidered in the same length of time, and a smaller per cent of pardons have been granted than has ever been known in the history of the State. More cases have been heard because the public understand it is the duty of the Board to investigate all applications presented. The reduced number of pardons can be attributed to the more thorough investigation which is given to all applications, and the fact that the Board is removed from all special obligations, and can devote more time than has heretofore been given to the consideration of such matters. While some of the ablest lawyers in the State have
conE. A. SNIVELY.
appeared before the Board, the fact is that the majority of the applications have been presented by people who have no money to employ counsel. The rules of the Board have enabled this class of people to present their applications and place before it their claims, as they could not do under the old system.
When the public fully understands the practice which was enforced, by virtue of circumstances, prior to the creation of the Board and the manner in which the Board transacts its business, I believe there will never be any desire to return to the old system.
The first law in Illinois, providing for the release of prisoners on parole became effective on the first day of July, 1895. Under its provisions all persons guilty of crimes, the punishment for which was confinement in the penitentiary, (except four named in the law) were to be sentenced to the penitentiary for an indefinite term, except they should serve not less than the minimum, nor more than the maximum term provided by law for their crimes. The provisions of the law are, of course, familiar to all members of the bar and need not be recited here. As there could be no conviction under the law, only for crimes committed after July 1, 1895, and as it pre. scribed that the prisoner should serve the minimum sentence before his release, there was no application of the statute until some time after July 1, 1896. And, when once the period has arrived for its practical enforcement, there arose a question as to its constitutionality. On this question, as upon all others except that a large retainer is preferable to a small one, there was the usual difference of opinion among lawyers. Finally, in the case of George vs. The People, 167th Illinois, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law. Under the law of 1895, its administration was delegated to the commissioners of the penitentiary in which the prisoner was confined. The Legislature of 1897 amended the law by transferring to the Board of Pardons its administration and abolished the minimum sentence.
The other duties of the penitentiary commissioners taking so much of their time, and the uncertainty which for so long a time surrounded the constitutionality of the law, resulted in but few prisoners being paroled prior to July 1st, 1897. When the Board of Pardons came into power there was no question as to the validity of the law, and they at once entered upon its enforcement, and have endeavored to administer it in the spirit in which it was enacted. Parole laws are now in force in many states, and they have all been enacted on the theory of reform. The belief of the Legislature seems to have been that, in many cases, a man was not a criminal because he had been adjudged guilty of some crime. The principle sought to be enforced was that, after a man had been incarcerated in the penitentiary a reasonable length of time, he should be given an opportunity to demonstrate, by his conduct outside the prison walls, that he could once more become a good and useful citizen.
Another feature of the law, which does not seem to have impressed its advocates very strongly, I regard as being equally as commendable as its reformatory principle; and that is the power it gives the Board to equalize sentences. Until a person has carefully investigated the prison records he can have no fair conception of the manner which juries have sentenced men for the same crimes. It used to be a common occurrence for a jury to give one man a sentence of one year and another tried at the same term of court, a sentence of five years for practically the same offense. Again, in one county the state's attorney is an able lawyer and a vigorous prosecutor; the jurors get to believe he will not ask for a conviction of a prisoner unless he is guilty. In the adjoining county, the state's attorney is a young man, but recently admitted to the bar, with all the timidity so characteristic of the young and inexperienced man in any profession. The one attorney makes a vigorous prosecution and secures a term of five or ten years for the prisoner. The other accepts a plea