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Exclusive: Search more than 400 criminals pardoned by Jerry Brown

Former governor (and presumptive Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Jerry Brown pardoned more than 400 convicted criminals during his two terms in office from 1975 to 1983 – from those found guilty of murder and rape to scores locked up on lesser offenses, such as petty theft and check forgery.

We want you to help us figure out what happened to them. Here at California Watch, we’ve created a one-of-a-kind database of every pardoned criminal listed in Brown’s annual clemency reports to the state Legislature, which we obtained from the State Archives. You can search the database by the pardonee’s name, crime or county.

Clemency and pardons can be political minefields for former governors who aspire to higher office – or in Brown's case, an encore. Just ask Mike Huckabee or Michael Dukakis. Pardons for minor offenses are also excellent ways to help out friends and political allies. Arthur Alarcon, executive clemency secretary under Jerry Brown’s father, former Gov. Pat Brown, and one of Jerry Brown's judicial appointees, said in a 1988 oral-history interview that he was aware of several extradition cases made by Brown the Younger for political reasons, but did not elaborate.

“More recently, during Jerry Brown's term, there were two or three on political grounds, but I don't recall any requests that there should not be an extradition,” he said.

Of course, clemencies and pardons are an important part of a governor's authority. Newspapers are replete with stories of petty criminals being offered a second chance by benevolent politicians, and the judicial system needs stopgaps to guard against wrongful convictions.


Jerry Brown pardons governor's raceJerry Brown, 1978

So here’s the deal: You show us something worth checking out, and we’ll head down to the State Archives, request the whole clemency case file (we’re right down the street, after all) and write about our findings here on this site.

If you want to pull the files yourself, more power to you. But if you write a story or blog post about any findings based on our data, we’d just ask two things:

1. Show some love and credit us. Putting this thing together wasn’t easy.

2. Link back to the database if you can. The more people that see it, the better information we’ll all have.

We’ll be digging too. But we thought the collective wisdom of California’s politically engaged might spot some things that we would miss.

Using the database is easy. Just run your search here (leave all the fields blank and hit “Search” to see a complete list):

Then click the “Details” link on the far right side of the results page:

Then use the feedback form here to chip in your thoughts. Comments are anonymous, but leave your name and contact information in the text field if you wouldn't mind us getting in touch.

Good luck. If you have any questions, contact California Watch reporter Chase Davis at cdavis@californiawatch.org.


Comments are closed for this story.
Anonymous's picture
Nice to see you following in the footsteps of Lee Atwater. After all, the Willie Horton ads were one of the high points in American democracy, and you should definitely emulate them. If this is what California Watch is going to spend its time on, then I might just as well watch Fox News.
Anonymous's picture
Chase Davis's picture

I appreciate the feedback and understand the criticism.

To be fair, we're not frothing at the mouth to find the next Willy Horton. One would hope that anyone in the position to make a clemency decision wouldn't set someone free if they thought they would pose a danger to society. Nobody can predict the future, and some pardonees are bound to slip through the cracks and reoffend. In those cases, I think it's fair to question the decision-making process of those involved. Was the pardon granted hastily or with due consideration? Was the evidence in favor of a pardon weak or compelling?

What I'm personally more interested in are pardons for minor offenses that were granted for political reasons. Cases like that shed light on Jerry Brown the politician, and how he made decisions the last time he was in the governor's office.

Rare are the situations when we have such a complete preview of how a gubernatorial candidate could perform when given the most powerful office in the state. Granted, a lot of time has passed since Brown was governor, but who he pardoned and why could provide an interesting window into his thought process as a powerful decision-maker.

Anonymous's picture
Are you interested for only political reasons related to Brown's upcoming campaign? If the principal of revealing pay-to-play politics is paramount here, then you'll be adding the pardons of Schwarzenegger, Davis, Deukmejian and Wilson here, correct? Sharon
Chase Davis's picture

Hi Sharon -- For the time being, yes, we are focusing on Brown because his presumptive campaign makes him more relevant to the average Californian than other past governors who have stepped out of the limelight. The goal is not to measure how clemency has worked here over the years (although that could be a good story) it's to look at Brown's decisions specifically.

Anonymous's picture
Why don't you look into eBay and PayPal litigation, customer and seller complaints from the last ten years, while you are at it?
Anonymous's picture
How about a list of eBay shareholders and HP shareholders that have lost thousands while Meg and Carly left their companies?
Anonymous's picture
I'm very disappointed to see this type of journalism Mr. Davis, especially after he wrote such an excellent piece on campaign finance last week. This is indeed a Fox news type piece here. Attempting to dredge up some horrendous anecdotal tales of crimes committed by some petty criminal Jerry Brown pardoned 30 yrs ago is not going to advance any intelligent discussions of the policy issues that really impact the state. It's a shame because there are so many more important stories out there.
Laura J. Hart's picture
as long as we understand that digging up old clemency records and making suppositions about such records are two different things, I myself would be curious. And yes, please go down the street and get the whole clemency file, I'm sure it would be nothing but interesting. Those who are complaining are nervous about the narrow focus on Brown. But remember, Brown's got his ruby slippers on and he's following the yellow brick road to the governors mansion, so he is up for this kind of scrutiny now. Over at Brown headquarters, they are spinning their stories like little PR spiders, hiding information, and putting their own heroic plot twists into their pumped up press releases. I see nothing wrong with this and readers on this thread should go back and read the most recent article by Jewette talking about Brown backing off elder abuse prosecutions. That has me, because we are of the Kern River Valley, where Brown put his flag, right in the middle of our hospital, stirring up a maelstrom, possibly botching an important investigation. I know, I have been fighting this for four years, a freelance reporter. Laura Hart KVHD under Fire!
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earl greyer's picture
Why don't we just hand them keys to a new car, super bowl tickets, and a house on their way out. And use government money to do it. I'd like to see a public statement outlining the reason behind each of these pardons.
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I cannot believe that he pardoned this many people. This is way to high to do. This needs to be investigated more. hartford accutane attorneys
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JeremyI's picture
Hi Chase, really like the site. Glad with everything going on in California that someone is keeping an eye out for the the problems that the local government is trying to hide and sweep under the rug. Cheap Commercial Insurance | Garage Storage

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