Bills respond to Bevin’s flurry of last-minute pardons
Responding to former Gov. Matt Bevin’s flurry of last-minute pardons, Kentucky lawmakers have introduced bills that would put checks on gubernatorial pardon powers and ensure victims are notified before their assailants are given clemency.
Bevin, a Republican, issued hundreds of pardons between his electoral defeat in November and his final day in office on Dec. 9.
Several stirred outrage from victims or their families, prosecutors and lawmakers, and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron asked the FBI to investigate.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee weighed in on the issue by proposing that crime victims have the right to be notified and heard before their assailant gets any pardon or commutation. The language is included in a proposed ballot measure — known as “Marsy’s Law” — that would add multiple protections for crime victims to the state’s Constitution.
“The whole point of Marsy’s Law is to make sure victims have a meaningful role in the process,” Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield said in an interview Friday.
“We want to make sure that future governors have to abide by that and we want to make sure that those victims are consulted, or at least an effort is made,” he added.
The measure is a reprise of a 2018 crime victims’ rights constitutional amendment that easily cleared the legislature and was approved by Kentucky voters. The amendment later was voided when the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the question posed to voters was too vague. The new proposal will remedy those concerns, Westerfield said.
The new provision stemming from Bevin’s actions seeks to ensure victims have the right to be heard and notified when a governor considers granting a pardon or sentence commutation to their assailants.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey has been among the lawmakers condemning some of Bevin’s pardons but said the legislature should resist making a “knee-jerk reaction.” He voiced support Friday for the notification language added to the Marsy’s Law measure.
“I do think that if a governor is going to pardon someone, that notice should at least be given beforehand to the victims, the prosecutors, the attorneys involved,” the Louisville Democrat said.
Kentucky is among 15 states that don’t provide some form of constitutional rights for crime victims, Westerfield said.
Kentucky’s version of Marsy’s Law would guarantee crime victims have several rights, including the right to timely notification of all court proceedings, the right to be present for those hearings and the right to be heard in any hearing involving a release, plea or sentencing.
Another lawmaker, Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would put limits on a governor’s power to grant pardons or commute sentences.
His measure would amend the state’s Constitution to strip a governor of pardon powers for the month leading up to an election and for the time between an election and the inauguration.
“If a governor wants to use the power to commute and pardon, he should be willing to stand in front of the voters and be held accountable for those actions,” McDaniel said when he announced his proposal last month.
Both measures, if they clear the legislature, would have to be ratified by the state’s voters.
Among the Bevin pardons that sparked outrage involved Patrick Baker, who had served about two years of a 19-year sentence for reckless homicide and robbery in the slaying of a Knox County man in front of his family. Baker’s brother held a campaign fundraiser for Bevin in 2018.
Some have applauded the former governor’s actions as a show of compassion and righting injustices, including for hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders.