Sunday, October 2, 2016

Punishing the innocent: Mike Pence edition

Decades ago,  knowingly and deliberately punishing the innocents was taken to be a no-brainer example immoral, unjust act, one routinely used, in the sheriff example, to argue against utilitarianism. Now, Mike Pence, the self-appointed paragon of rectitude is doing just that.
After serving 10 years of a 40 year prison sentence for an Indiana armed robbery and attempted murder, Keith Cooper was freed when eyewitnesses recanted their testimony against him, new DNA evidence showed he wasn’t at the scene of the crime, and a jailhouse informant admitted that he lied to investigators.
Five years later, Cooper filed a pardon petition that, if it were granted, would make him the first person in the state’s history granted clemency based on a finding of innocence. When his request was presented to the parole board, they found unanimously that he should be pardoned and have the two serious felony charges wiped from his record.
Now, after waiting for more than two years for Governor Mike Pence to act on the board’s decision, Cooper has learned that the GOP vice presidential candidate won’t — unless Cooper can prove to the governor’s administration that all other judicial remedies have been exhausted.
“To our knowledge Mr. Cooper has not filed a petition with the courts in Elkhart County to determine whether post-conviction relief is available,” Gov. Pence’s general counsel Mark Ahearn wrote in a letter to Cooper this month.
Though Cooper is now out of jail, his felony conviction remains on his record, limiting his job opportunities.
“I’m tired of people judging me by that conviction. That [Department of Correction] number. That’s not who I am,” Cooper told BuzzFeed News in August. “Man, I know that better than my own Social Security number.”
Cooper is right---his felony record is a continuing punishment, one that wrongs him each day. While Pence was not involved in his unjust conviction, Pence is now very much responsible for his wrongful continuing punishment.
Pence’s refusal to immediately pardon Cooper was criticized this week in an editorial in the South Bend Tribune, saying that Pence’s suggestion that he would wait until the judicial process is complete “defies reason.”
“An innocent man who has had a decade of his life stolen from him by a flawed process shouldn’t be advised to sit tight and wait a bit longer for the system to finally get it right,” the editorial reads. “Every one of us should feel the sting of such injustice. Nothing can erase all that Keith Cooper has endured, but the next step couldn’t be clearer. Governor Pence, issue this pardon.”
Mike Pence, a probable next president should his ticket prevail, has a record that should give any voter pause; now add to that record "willful punishment of the innocent".  In the seminar room example, punishing the innocent man will stave off a race riot which could kill and injure dozens of innocents: this is the situation the sheriff faces. In the real life Indiana case, punishing the innocent man will stave off political inconvenience for Pence. Nice.

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