As it continues to gain popularity, a Netflix show is making political waves. “Making a Murderer” chronicles the life and conviction of Steven Avery, beginning with his 2003 release from prison after serving 18 years for a sexual assault he did not commit. Five years after being released, Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, were convicted of the 2005 murder of photographer Teresa Halbach.
The show presented evidence and interview footage that painted a very controversial and circumstantial picture of the case against Avery, leading some to believe that he may have been wrongly convicted once again. Within days of the premier (December 18, 2015), a petition to pardon Avery and Dassey was posted on a White House-run website called “We The People.”
At the federal level, a petition must garner 100,000 signatures for a response from the White House. With nearly 130,000 signatures, the Avery petition generated a response from both the President and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
But what does it mean to pardon someone?
Pardon: to use the executive power of a Governor or President to forgive a person convicted of a crime, thus removing any remaining penalties or punishments and preventing any new prosecution of the person for the crime for which the pardon was given.
Since federal law overrides local law, does that mean the President has the final say?
The answer is no. As the Obama administration explained in their response, the U.S. Constitution says, “The President…shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for the offenses against the United States.” In short, the President only has the power to pardon federal convictions, not state convictions. The President cannot pardon Avery or Dassey, because they are state prisoners. If viewers are hoping for a pardon, they will have to turn their focus to Governor Walker, who at this point is unwilling to grant a pardon in the case.