A Haley Barbour pardon doesn’t guarantee a clean criminal record, Mississippi Supreme Court rules

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. (AP file photo)
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. (AP file photo)
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. (AP file photo)

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — A pardon by the governor is not grounds to wipe clean a criminal record, the Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled.

The case centered on the claim of Rebecca Hentz, who was among dozens of people pardoned by Gov. Haley Barbour in 2012.

She pleaded guilty in 2000 to attempting to manufacture methamphetamine, a felony. Hentz was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment with all 30 years suspended. She applied for and was granted a complete and unconditional pardon by Barbour.

Armed with the pardon, she asked a Tallahatchie County judge to expunge her criminal record. The judge denied the request, saying state law does not allow expunction, or deletion, of her criminal record. The state Supreme Court, in a rare 4-4 decision this past week, upheld the Tallahatchie judge’s ruling. Justice Ann Lamar did not participate in the case.

Justice Leslie King said there is no state law that allows for an expunction after a criminal defendant receives an executive pardon. What that means, King said, is that “the history behind the offense should be retained unless or until the Legislature provides otherwise.”

Justice James Kitchens, in a dissent, argued that there are state and federal court decisions that support a determination that a pardon renders a conviction moot and mandates expunction. Kitchens said the decision of the court “diminishes the effect of gubernatorial pardons in Mississippi.”

As Barbour prepared to leave office in January 2012, he issued pardons, clemencies and other acts of leniency for more than 200 people, including Hentz.

In court documents, Hentz’s attorney conceded state law does not expressly give a court authority to expunge a criminal record after a pardon by the governor.

“However, if it is the intent of a full, complete and unconditional pardon by the governor, to in essence restore a person to the status they occupied prior to their arrest and conviction, how can it be said that they are not entitled to have their record expunged?” wrote lawyer Tommy Defer, who represented Hentz.

Special Assistant Attorney General Lisa Blount said in a response that several laws provide for expunction of criminal records under limited circumstances. She said no state law provides for expunction upon the grant of an executive pardon.