This piece first appeared on MaineBeacon.com
As one of his last acts in office, Gov. Paul LePage pardoned a former Maine legislator and political ally for a 35-year-old drug trafficking conviction, against the recommendations of the state clemency board.
We agree with Gov. LePage that Jeffrey Pierce should no longer face repercussions from a non-violent drug conviction over three decades ago. But we don’t think decisions about who gets a second chance and who doesn’t should depend on connections and political loyalty.
A governor’s pardon is essentially an act of official forgiveness. Article IV, section 11 of the Maine Constitution provides that “The Governor shall have power to remit after conviction all forfeitures and penalties, and to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons.”If a person is still serving a criminal sentence they will be released. If they are still facing penalties or restrictions based on their past conviction, those punishments will no longer apply. LePage granted 115 pardons during his two-term tenure, which puts him somewhere between Govs. Angus King and John Baldacci. But unlike King and Baldacci, we may never know who else made the cut under LePage because the Maine legislature voted last year to make pardon decisions confidential.
One person who definitely did not receive a pardon is Lexius Saint Martin, a 35-year-old Waterville resident who sought a pardon for a 10-year-old cocaine trafficking conviction. In the decade following his conviction, Saint Martin kept a clean record, built a successful business, married and started a family. In seeking a pardon, he was desperately seeking to avoid being deported to his native Haiti – and separated from his pregnant wife and two sons – during President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration. But LePage rejected Saint Martin’s request, and Saint Martin was deported last February, before his baby daughter was born.
If LePage believed that Pierce, who has had several misdemeanor offenses since his trafficking arrest and is currently being investigated for the unlawful use of firearms, deserved another chance, then why not Saint Martin, who worked hard to get his life back on track?
While we can’t know LePage’s reasons for making these decisions, we do know that whether a person gets pardoned for a non-violent drug offense should never come down to their political affiliation, their clout, the color of the skin, or where they were born. That is why drug law reform is needed now: to make sure that people don’t get caught in the system for non-violent drug charges in the first place.
For every Jeffrey Pierce, there are thousands of people stuck in the system who don’t have political connections. Thousands of people who have been taken from their families, sentenced to spend their lives in prison, or sent back to dangerous countries where they have no home, because of our broken drug laws. They are disproportionately people of color, poor people, and people with mental illness. They are the people who are least likely to get the benefit of clemency or a pardon.
It shouldn’t take connections to get a second chance. It’s time to fix our drug laws to make sure our justice system treats all people fairly.
Rep. Jeffrey K. Pierce, center, pictured with Gov. Paul LePage and Sen. Susan Collins in a photo from his campaign.