Trump’s acceptance of pardon by ex-soldier was not an admission of guilt, court rules

  • The 10th circuit judges that the pardon of Clint Lorance does not constitute an admission of guilt
  • Lorance had been convicted of the murder of two Afghan civilians

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court said on Thursday that a former U.S. Army officer acceptance of a pardon from former Republican President Donald Trump did not constitute an admission of guilt that would prevent him from challenge his convictions for the murder of two Afghan civilians.

The 10th U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in favor of former First Lt. Clint Lorance appears to mark the first time a federal appeals court has ruled whether accepting a presidential pardon amounts to an admission of guilt.

A lower Kansas court judge found the 2019 pardon to be an admission, citing the 1915 United States Supreme Court decision in Burdick v. United States that “a pardon results in an imputation of guilt; acceptance of a confession ”.

But U.S. Circuit Senior Judge David Ebel declined to adopt this “draconian” reading of Burdick, saying the statement was an aside, or dicta, in the court’s overall decision on the legal effect of non-pardon. accepted from someone.

Ebel said no court since had ever ruled that accepting a pardon was tantamount to confessing guilt and that the ruling simply meant that accepting a “only makes the pardoned guilty by implying or imputing that ‘ he needs forgiveness “.

“If the court had wanted to ascribe other legal consequences to accepting a presidential pardon, it surely would have said so explicitly,” Ebel wrote.

And while Trump could have conditioned a forgiveness on an admission of guilt, “the forgiveness was rather simply agnostic about Lorance’s guilt, not claiming to speak of guilt or innocence,” Ebel said.

US circuit judges Robert Bacharach and Gregory Phillips, both appointed by former Democratic President Barack Obama, joined in the decision of Ebel, appointed by former Republican President Ronald Reagan.

John Maher, Lorance’s lawyer at Maher Legal Services, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Kansas Acting U.S. Attorney Duston Slinkard, whose office handled the appeal, said he was reviewing the decision.

In 2013, a military jury in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, found Lorance guilty of murder and other charges for ordering his platoon in Afghanistan to shoot three Afghans, killing two of them.

Lorance had pleaded not guilty and his lawyers had argued that he had legitimately ordered the soldiers in his platoon to open fire on the approaching motorcycles, suspecting that they were Taliban.

Lorance was sentenced to 19 years in prison. After losing several appeals, Lorance filed a habeas petition in Kansas federal court in 2019 to challenge his court martial convictions.

Three days after filing the case, Trump pardoned Lorance, who had become a notorious cause among some conservatives, including Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity. The Justice Department then decided to close the case, saying it was moot.

Lorance has sought to continue to defend the case, citing the collateral consequences of his conviction, including the fact that the pardon did not reinstate his back pay, his rank or the benefits of the veterans administration.

But U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum agreed the case was moot, saying that according to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Lorance’s acceptance of pardon constituted an admission of guilt and therefore a waiver of his rights to pursue the matter.

The case is Lorance v. Commanding Officer, 10th United States Court of Appeals, No. 20-3055.

For Clint Lorance: John Maher of Maher Legal Services

For the United States: Jared Maag of the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas

Nate raymond

Nate Raymond reports to the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at [email protected]

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