Minnesota residents seeking pardons have only ten minutes to make their cases to a three member board consisting of the governor, attorney general and state's chief justice. Among recent applicants: a man caught a quarter-century ago with 127 doses of LSD, a pony-tailed Navy veteran who critically injured someone while driving drunk in 2008, a man twice convicted of assaulting his wife, now sitting beside him, and a former addict once found unconscious in a car, syringe jutting from his arm. They came to the Minnesota capital of St. Paul to be forgiven. The three members of the Board of Pardons sat, unsmiling, at a long table facing a much smaller table that featured tissue boxes and a digital clock set at 10 minutes, the New York Times reports.
It is a raw pardon process unlike those in most other states, with the powerless beseeching the powerful in public, and the decision rendered in the moment. When Gov. Tim Walz, 59, a retired high school teacher and former congressman, took office in 2019, his knowledge of his pardon power came mostly from movies. “Theoretically, I understood,” he said. “Operationally, no idea.” Now, with eight rounds of pardon hearings behind him, the governor understood the realities. To his left sat Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, a conservative Republican. To his right, Attorney General Keith Ellison, like him a progressive Democrat. “I remind folks in here that this is not a court of law,” the governor said. “This is a Board of Pardons to take in those very human experiences.” “Mercy is a requirement for justice, given how punishment actually operates in the world,” said New York University law Prof. Rachel Barkow. “For us to assume there’s a concept of perfect justice, it means we would know how a person will evolve and change over time.” There are other systems for restoring legal and social status, including diversion programs, expungement and record-sealing. Pardons carry the emotional heft of society’s forgiveness. Depending on the jurisdiction, their application can be transparent or mysterious, reasoned or arbitrary, even questionable, with some reformers calling them a capricious relic