In America, second chances are, if not quite a constitutional right, a cherished value. And the power of presidents and governors to pardon lawbreakers and commute sentences can take on special significance. Such enormous executive powers are often misused, critics say, but they can also provide snapshots of Americans' political and cultural priorities.
Many pardons occur around Christmas, in a nod to the spirit of the season. Also, around that time, many American's aren't paying much attention to the news – and some outgoing leaders are making their final decisions. Here are the Top 6 cases of pardon or clemency in 2010.
Brian Aitken received a seven-year prison sentence in August after police found two disassembled handguns and packages of hollow-tipped bullets in his trunk. That event occurred after his mother called the police, concerned about the media consultant's mental health.
His attorney said he did not break any laws because he was in the process of moving from Colorado to New Jersey, a point the judge in the case did not allow the defense to make to the jury.
In recent months, thousands of gun owners across the United States rallied on Aitken's behalf, saying the case exemplifies how they have to maneuver byzantine state-by-state gun laws that can make criminals out of law-abiding citizens.
In a move that goes against the grain of recent anti-gun-ownership laws and regulations in New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie commuted Aitken's sentence Monday night. "Cases like this one are exactly what the pardon and clemency power is for," writes Radley Balko of Reason magazine.
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