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A governor’s pardon power is a potentially double-edged sword. On the one hand, a governor can provide justice for a deserving criminal defendant when the judicial branch cannot or does not act. On the other hand, the governor can use the pardon power for less altruistic purposes, such as to benefit friends or political allies.

The most recent controversial use of the pardon power occurred in Kentucky. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky issued 670 pardons and commutations during his last two months of office, including 254 pardons issued in the month between his re-election defeat in November 2019 and his departure. Bevin was praised by some for addressing over-incarceration in Kentucky but also was criticized for many of his pardons, including that of a man convicted of murder whose brother had hosted a Bevin political fundraiser. In 2022, a bill limiting the governor’s pardon power was introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly. The State Senate passed the bill, but it did not pass the State House of Representatives.

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Published by The National Registry of Exonerations - Michigan State University College of Law,

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