Nineteen-year-old Esteban and some young pals went out drinking and carousing, and got into a dispute with another group of young men outside of a party.
One of Esteban's group stabbed a young man in the opposing group. The young man died. It's a story that was ancient before it showed up in Romeo and Juliet.
Esteban and the friend who held the knife entered a guilty plea. Both got sixteen years in prison. Esteban and his attorney thought that was too much.
Esteban asked the governor, a tough-on-crime Republican, a man who spent most of his career glorifying the glitzy annihilation of criminals, for mercy in the form of commutation.
Esteban got it. Esteban's state imprisons legions of young men like Esteban for many decades at taxpayer expense, and they never get mercy, but Esteban got struck by the good kind of lightning.
You might or might not find it relevant that Esteban is Esteban Nunez, son of former California Assembly Speaker (and Gov. Schwarzenegger ally) Fabian Nunez.
Maybe that has something to do with it.
Politically motivated pardons and commutations are old hat. Many of them are, viewed in isolation and without context, perfectly defensible exercises of executive clemency, an important and legitimate power under federal and state constitutions. Where the wheels fall of the wagon of legitimacy is when we start asking why this guy, and not those ten thousand guys? The answer is money and political power, as it always has been. The handful of other lucky men and women thrown into each raft of pardons and commutations, picked to suggest neutral mercy. But overall, pardons and commutations are given in increasingly stingy fashion.
The fault lies in ourselves. As a society, we've uncritically accepted the "law and order" agenda and made it as inviolate as "family values" and "strong defense." We snipe at presidents and governors for handing out political favors in the form of the rare pardon or commutation. But the truth is, if a president or a governor engaged in a vigorous, far-ranging, even-handed campaign of pardons and commutations, we'd flip our lids and call him soft on crime, some sort of radical hell-bent on releasing the scum of the earth to murder our children in their warm beds.
So can we really blame them for being cynical about it?
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