The Municipal Pardon Power

Hayato Watanabe*

At the state and federal levels, the pardon power can be used to restore the dignity and legal rights lost by a criminal conviction. Unfortunately, those facing similar consequences from municipal convictions may not have access to a pardon. Although clemency is exceedingly rare at any level of government, municipal defendants face a unique structural problem that deprives them of the possibility of a pardon. Specifically, many cities have simply failed to create a local clemency power. This Note argues that the authority to grant pardons for municipal offenses is part of the toolbox of powers provided to cities through the doctrine of home rule. Accordingly, cities do not have to wait for the permission of their parent states to create a local clemency power. By failing to advocate for a local interpretation of clemency, cities are missing a valuable opportunity to help municipal defendants overcome the stigma and collateral consequences that accompany municipal convictions. While existing scholarship largely ignores the application of clemency to municipal law, this Note offers a legal framework for reimagining the next frontier of clemency.

*J.D. Candidate, December 2019, University of Michigan Law School. Thank you to my parents, Alda and Yuji Watanabe, for all of their love. Thank you to Professor Hugh Spitzer who offered me immeasurable support and guidance throughout this writing process. Thank you to Professor Julian Mortenson, Professor Kate Andrias, Professor Imran Syed, and countless other Michigan Law faculty who provided me with feedback. I also thank my friend David Kim for his detailed edits and sage advice. Finally, I would like to thank the Notes Office and my Notes Editor, Maggie Turner.

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