Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pardoning Pawlenty for the Giefer Pardon

Minnesota's governor, Tim Pawlenty, seems to have presidential aspirations, as unlikely as that may seem to people from the coasts who've never heard of him. Recently, though, he has found himself in the midst of a sex-offender "pardongate" that many think could derail his upward path in Republican politics.

What happened?

In 1993, a 19-year-old man named Jeremy Giefer got his 14-year-old girlfriend pregnant. He was convicted of statutory rape in 1994 and served 45 days in jail. Meanwhile, their daughter was born. He and the child's mother remained a couple and then married. According to some things I've read, he helped support his wife as she finished high school and post-secondary schooling. He also got some type of secondary education. They operated two different small businesses in a town in south central Minnesota. Since being released from jail, he has had a clean record.

In 2007, Giefer applied for a pardon. In the application, he mentioned the fact that because of his record he was prohibited from coaching his son's soccer team, his towing service couldn't contract with the State Patrol, and his wife couldn't open a home-based child care business. (Her post-secondary schooling had been in early childhood education, and she was already operating a child care center in a separate building near their home.)

In fall 2008, Giefer got his wish from the Minnesota pardon board, which is made up of the governor, attorney general and chief of the state Supreme Court. Note that Pawlenty appointed the Supreme Court chief, but that the attorney general is an elected Democrat, Lori Swanson.

In recent weeks, a young woman (said by police to be a relative of Giefer's; according to the City Pages, she is his oldest daughter, born in 1994) has come forward to say that Giefer sexually molested her between the ages of 9 and 16. Now Pawlenty is being blamed for the pardon, and he is talking about bringing perjury charges against Giefer (on top of the criminal charges already being considered by prosecutors).

Who is to blame?

As you may know, I am no fan of Tim Pawlenty, and I hope his career goes nowhere. But his role in this pardon is not the reason he should fail. Exploiting it seems like political opportunism to me.

According to the City Pages, the pardon application included supportive "letters from a local judge, a retired criminal investigator, and family friends. Patrick McDermott, the Blue Earth County Attorney at the time, emailed the board to say he had no objection to Giefer's request."

The young accuser in this more recent case says Giefer began abusing her in 2003, five years before the pardon. Clearly, his pardon or lack thereof had no direct effect on his behavior. Some folks who are outraged by the pardon (as in the comments on the City Pages article) particularly decry the danger of having Giefer anywhere near his wife's child care business. But is it reasonable to assume a guy who had a 14-year-old girlfriend when he was 19 is likely to molest young children?

I know I'm probably a bit old-fashioned as well as revealing my rural upbringing, but it doesn't seem necessarily criminal to me for a 14-year-old girl to have a 19-year-old boyfriend, especially if they later marry and have a family together.

Giefer's original crime is not at all the same (to me) as a young adult who molests a child under 13 or an older person -- especially one in a position of authority -- who has sex with teenagers. (I admit I'm a bit vague on where I would draw the age line, and it depends on the age of the teenager... but 21 seems like a possible cut-off age, though I haven't completely thought it out.)

I also believe that people deserve to be pardoned for old crimes when they've been on a good path since then. 23 other people were pardoned in the same year as Giefer, including one other sex offender; no one seems to have a problem with that. I believe in rehabilitation, including for sex offenders who've been through successful treatment or whose crime was very low-level, as I would define Giefer's 1993 case. (There is credible evidence that treatment works in most cases, although you would never know it from reading the media.)

Clearly, rehabilitation is not what happened in Giefer's case, but that's only obvious with hindsight. I think the state pardon board acted in good faith. Unless it's shown that the state could have reasonably discovered Giefer was something other than an upstanding citizen, I believe that neither Pawlenty nor the board's other members should be faulted for granting his request.

We don't need any more politicians afraid to do what's right, such as pardoning people who want to be productive members of society, for fear of blame if there's a new crime. The key term is reasonable -- reasonable care should be taken, and if a bipartisan pardon board approves it, no one should be blamed.

Although I do wonder if there mightn't be a final irony in this case: What if it turns out the state could have discovered Giefer was less than upstanding, but didn't have the staff to fully investigate because of Pawlenty's no-new-taxes pledge? Hmm.


Ed Kohler said...

Well said. Based on the facts at the time, the board seems to have made a sound decision.

Mike Keliher said...

This is, by far, the most reasonable and intelligent writing I've read on this matter. Thanks.