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Pardons rare in Minnesota, North Dakota

GRAND FORKS — President Donald Trump created controversy with his first act of clemency last month, when he pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt of court and has been accused of racial profiling and running a jail with inhumane conditions.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has also signed just one pardon since taking office, though his was much less controversial. On May 10, Burgum signed a pardon for Kacey Marie Songer, a Minot woman who was convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor assault in January 2009 when she was 18. Songer had the entirety of her sentence suspended at the time.

Burgum has yet to commute any sentences since taking office.

The Pardon Advisory Board, composed of Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Duane DeKrey, Mandy Maxon, Patrick Weir and Bev Adams, meets next on Nov. 7. In North Dakota, the board makes recommendations to the governor on clemency actions including commutations, conditional pardons, full pardons, the remission of fines and a reprieval or delay of punishment.

In Minnesota, the governor sits on the pardon board, along with Attorney General Lori Swanson and Minnesota Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has not fully pardoned anyone since taking office in 2011, according to state records. He has signed 87 orders for pardon extraordinary, meaning a person who has served his sentence no longer has to report the conviction on a background check or job application.

Both state boards meet twice a year.

The Minnesota Pardon Board received nine applications for pardons and commutations in 2016 and granted none of them.

Dayton signed 15 pardon extraordinary orders in 2016, and one conditional pardon extraordinary.

One person had a sentence commuted in Minnesota in 2015 and 18 more were granted pardon extraordinary status.

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed off on 113 pardon extraordinary orders from 2003 to 2011. Jesse Ventura signed 33 pardon extraordinary orders from 1999 to 2002.

President Barack Obama pardoned 212 people in his eight years of office, and commuted, or shortened, the sentences of 1,715 others.