Wa. State Pardons

Table of Contents

The following is a commissioned work and reflects their opinions, concepts and knowledge.

Bottom line: If Governor Jay Inslee pardons Malcolm Fraser it is a coverup for injustice.

Note: A person pardoned is not declared innocent.

Washington State

What It Means to Be Pardoned in Washington State

Meta: The pardon power in Washington State is broad, yet it presents some complicated questions regarding the state’s judicial decisions and processes. Read on for more.

Like other states in the union, the state of Washington has its share of violent and non-violent crimes. According to data from NeighborhoodScout, Washington has a total of 290,570 crimes per year. Out of those crimes, 29,247 are violent and 261,323 are property crimes. If you were to break it down by crime rate, Washington has 3.76 violent crimes per 1,000 residents and 33.56 property crimes per 1,000 residents.

We have a criminal justice system to try these offenders and ensure that they get the justice they deserve. Some offenders receive prison time. Others are exonerated through the judicial process. However, in this post, I want to focus on those individuals who are pardoned in Washington. As you will see below, a pardon may send a greater signal than what most people imagine.

The Pardon Power in Washington State

One great resource for understanding the pardon power in Washington state lies on the Office of the Attorney General’s website. Attorney General Bob Ferguson outlines the specific parts of the Washington Constitution and state statutes that allow for reprieves, pardons, and commutations.

For instance, let’s look at the Washington Constitution. Article III, Sections 9 and 11 provide pardon power to the Washington Governor. Specifically, Section 9 (which is titled “Pardoning Power”) says “The pardoning power shall be vested in the governor under such regulations and restrictions as may be prescribed by law.” Section 11 is titled “Remission of Fines and Forfeitures.” This section states “The governor shall have power to remit fines and forfeitures, under such regulations as may be prescribed by law, and shall report to the legislature at its next meeting each case of reprieve, commutation or pardon granted, and the reasons for granting the same, and also the names of all persons in whose favor remission of fines and forfeitures shall have been made, and the several amounts remitted and the reasons for the remission.”

Beyond the Washington State Constitution, there are specific statutes that further outline the pardon power. For instance, you can look at RCW 10.01.120, which gives the Governor some wide authority to commute a death penalty sentence. To be clear, a commutation is different than a pardon (a commutation reduces a prisoner’s sentence, which is unlike a pardon). That said, it goes to show that the State Constitution isn’t the only place where the Governor has broad authority to reduce (or completely eliminate) a prisoner’s sentence.

The Governor, however, isn’t the only person who has some say over who gets pardoned in Washington State. The Washington Legislature also created something called the Clemency and Pardons Board. The Clemency and Pardons Board both receives pardon and clemency petitions from prisoners and makes recommendations to the Governor. The Board can even receive petitions for prisoners to be able to run for political office. As for pardoning, however, the Board only submits recommendations to the Governor. The Governor has the power to actually make the decision to pardon.

The Consequences of a Pardon

As you can see, the Washington Governor has some wide latitude in terms of their pardon power. If you were to look at the federal level, the U.S. President tends to pardon offenders at the end of their term. The Washington Governor, like the U.S. President, can pardon an individual at any time. The Clemency and Pardons Board conducts quarterly hearings to review petitions. It can also take on petitions on an ad hoc basis. Once the hearings conclude, the Board votes and decides whether to recommend further action from the Governor.

All of this is well and good. Yet at the same time, a pardon leads to another large question. Namely, if someone is pardoned, does that actually mean that they are innocent? To put it another way, if I commit a crime and I am pardoned by Governor Inslee, am I truly exonerated?

First things first: if a prisoner is pardoned, that means the Governor forgives a conviction. Essentially, it is forgiveness for the crime that is committed. Critically, however, a pardon does not mean that the offender is declared innocent. It also doesn’t completely erase the conviction from the offender’s record.

We can see this assertion in several different places. For instance, the Governor’s office states that the power to expunge a criminal record is only found within the judicial system. Only the courts have the authority to vacate a specific criminal record, making it very distinct from a pardon.

Moreover, a pardon does not automatically remove the conviction from the court’s files. What happens is that the Governor’s office sends a copy of the pardon to the Washington State Patrol. The Governor then requests that the State Patrol remove the individual’s criminal history from the public record. That same pardon does not remove the individual’s obligation to report a criminal record on things like job applications. Moreover, law enforcement officers (and other special individuals) can still access the individual’s prior criminal history.

There have also been several court decisions that provide more clarification. For instance, in State v. Aguirre, the Washington Court of Appeals held that the Governor’s unconditional pardon would not expunge the individual’s underlying crime. Rather, it would simply forgive the crime by commuting the sentence.

So what Does This All Mean?

Ultimately, the pardon power in Washington signals something that is slightly troubling. That is the fact that a pardon would be a cheat on justice if the state of Washington was found to have corruption within its court system.

Just think about it: everyone from the Clemency and Pardons Board to the Governor can pardon the convicted individual without any scrutiny or recourse. They don’t need to admit guilt or acknowledge that things were not up to the honest bar. One could argue that this premise suggests that pardons can be used as a means to quietly address cases where Washington’s judicial system has failed due to corruption.

Here, a pardon would basically serve as a band-aid. By pardoning an individual who was wrongfully convicted due to corrupt practices, the state could ostensibly right a specific wrong without opening itself up to broader scrutiny or liability. This approach would allow the government to acknowledge that things went wrong in a particular case, without having to admit to systemic failures or corruption.

In fact, by using pardons in this way, a state could create the illusion of justice being served. How so? Let’s say that a future governor of Washington decided to selectively pardon several individuals in cases where corruption was evident. By doing so, state officials could avoid several things. First, they would avoid a larger conversation about trust in the judicial system. They could also avoid costly and time-consuming investigations into corrupt practices within the system at large. In the end, they could mitigate the need (or risk, in the minds of policymakers) for comprehensive reforms to address the root causes of corruption.

But let’s step back and look at the core. The current pardon power is a great tool for individuals who were wrongly convicted of their crimes. On the other hand, is there true justice if missteps are being constantly made and the system isn’t changing?

This is a very difficult philosophical problem to solve. Any type of systematic change is difficult to achieve. But when you are looking at making changes to a state’s judicial system? That requires a significant amount of effort. It could take lifetimes to get that far.

Pursuing Equal Justice Under the Law

I would argue that true justice requires transparency, accountability, and a commitment to ongoing improvement in our legal institutions. All legal systems are made of individuals. Furthermore, no legal system is perfect. It is full of flawed individuals who are doing their best to adjudicate each case and deliver justice under the law.

With all of that said, the pardon power in Washington state deserves to be given a close look. The fact that it doesn’t actually exonerate an individual has consequences that policymakers may not have necessarily thought about. On an individual level, it may not remove the dark mark of a crime that the individual didn’t actually commit. And on a larger policy level, the pardon power can be effective on a very granular level, but it may raise larger questions related to potential corruption within the judicial system.

There are no easy answers here. We are dealing with the diametrically opposed forces of justice and corruption. But while the specifics may be difficult to agree upon, I believe that we can all agree that creating a narrowly tailored pardon power is a promising path for all states and governments. We don’t want the pardon power to cover up—or even incentivize—corruption or bad decision-making at the lowest judicial levels. Instead of that, we want all of our judicial decisions to be as accurate and just as possible, with the pardon power used to correct the extremely minuscule number of errors. In the end, it is the best we can ask for.


The Consider Podcast hosts attempt to express opinions through God’s holiness.
Views expressed by others are their opinions. Nothing concerning justice or injustice should be taken as legal advice or a call to action. There is no political agenda. There is no church to join. There is no individual moral life advice. Each person is solely responsible before God and man for their beliefs, actions or inactions. The Consider Podcast is narrowly focused on one thing, and only one thing – the need for all to surrender to a life of repentance according to the whole gospel.

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