Neil Abercrombie, in one of his last acts as governor, did what he could to clear the slate of a man local media dubbed the “Manoa Home Invader,” and that’s so troubling that it should lead to change.

For some history: Shaun Rodrigues was arrested in 2000 and convicted two years later of committing a brazen daytime home invasion in Manoa Valley. Brandishing a gun, he ordered the owner of the house and her daughter to lie face down, and tied their hands behind their backs with electrical cords. Then he robbed them.

The judge was convinced — partly because Rodrigues wasn’t wearing a mask, so the victims saw his face — and sentenced Rodrigues in 2004 to 20 years in prison. After serving just over six years, Rodrigues was freed, although he was supposed to remain on parole until 2025.

The governor pardoned Rodrigues on the first day of December, a scant few hours before he completed his four-year term as the chief executive.

Neil Abercrombie

Then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie, at the opening of the Abercrombie for Governor campaign in March 2014.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

These sorts of “Midnight pardons” are hardly new for presidents and governors on their way out the door, and they have often drawn scrutiny, criticism and embarrassment for leaders.

Why did Neil wait until the last minute to grant the pardon and why did the relentlessly expressive politician fail to explain his actions to the people who elected him?

It is unlikely that the holiday spirit softened up the governor. And I doubt he bowed to the wisdom of Shakespeare’s Portia, who informed Shylock in The Merchant of Venice that, “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

I’m sure the Manoa Home Invader felt blessed by the pardon. But there are a lot of people who don’t feel like blessing Neil Abercrombie over his decision.

Since Rodrigues was already out of prison, why does a pardon matter? A felon loses certain rights, including the ability to vote, serve on a jury, run for office and carry a gun. Someone who is pardoned gets most of those rights back, although the right to carry a gun must be specified in the pardon.

Why did Neil wait until the last minute to grant the pardon and why did the relentlessly expressive politician fail to explain his actions to the people who elected him?

But a pardon does not erase a conviction, which remains on the criminal’s record and must be disclosed when information about past criminal activity is required. A pardon doesn’t say someone is innocent; it is that he is forgiven. A pardon from a governor surely makes life easier on a convicted felon. Imagine applying for a job where you have to disclose your criminal record, but you can say: ‘Look, the governor pardoned me.’

And it is the governor — just the governor. There is no parole board in Hawaii that needs to validate his decision. The governor just decides he wants to do it, and it is done. So there is little accountability.

Last-minute pardons like the one Neil granted to Rodrigues carry even less. After all, Neil’s political career is almost certainly over after the historic shellacking the 76-year-old politician endured in the Democratic primary in 2014, so this won’t be brought up during a future political campaign.

As is often the case with such pardons, we don’t know much about why Neil did this. And we don’t know much about who convinced him and the rest of the process.

If he is like many other governors, Neil did this because he could. The timing of his actions was fully within the bounds of the law, since there are no formal timetables for when a sitting governor can issue a pardon. They can do it up until 11:59 p.m. on that last night in office.

That said, the midnight pardon is a long tradition that needs to end — not political executives’ right to pardon, which is important and enshrined in state and national constitutions, but the last-minute part.

The main problem with the pardon process is that there are few rules, procedures or regulations that frame it.

They should promise, in advance, to complete their pardons by a certain date and include a written justification before a pardon is formalized.

With that in mind, permit me to offer a modest proposal that would help to bring a little much-needed scrutiny on the pardoning process and on those who are pardoned.

In the future, all prospective governors, especially the ones most likely to get elected, should agree in writing or, better yet, on camera that they won’t succumb to the sort of action that our recently departed governor did. (David Ige could voluntarily do this while sitting in the governor’s office now.)

They should promise, in advance, to complete their pardons by a certain date and include a written justification before a pardon is formalized.

The clock should start ticking once a governor becomes a lame duck. She or he should, very soon after being defeated at the ballot box, prepare and publicize their pardon list.

If a governor knows that he or she won’t run for re-election, this should be done several months — perhaps three to six — before the end of the gubernatorial term.

Regardless of the specific time constraints that a governor voluntarily places on his or her ability to pardon, a written justification for the pardons should be required.

Such justifications should include factual information, reasoning, policy considerations and other factors that the governor deems relevant to the pardon being prepared.

Here is why: A written decision, published in advance, will allow for public scrutiny and accountability of the governor’s decision to pardon a convicted criminal.

This process might even allow the governor to escape shadows of suspicion, whether influence peddling or ignorance of details about a convicted criminal’s past that should be weighed before pardoning them. This could spare governors and presidents a great deal of embarrassment and, more importantly, make the process healthier.

This isn’t the only way to address a problem that absolutely should be addressed. So if you have other ideas about how to improve our system of pardoning criminals, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts in the comments below. What do you think?

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