The man at the center of Netflix’s Making a Murderer is getting closer and closer to what many people believe is justice. On Wednesday, The White House petition calling for Avery’s pardon met the signature threshold, meaning that some important, influential people are aware about what’s going on. But what are the next steps? The decision to free Avery actually isn't up to the president.
“Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey should be given a full pardon by President Obama for their wrongful conviction in the connection to the murder of Teresa Halbach,” the petition, which has amassed 114,466 signatures, read. “This is a black mark on the justice system as a whole, and should be recognized as such, while also giving these men the ability to live as normal a life as possible.” Initiated by D.R. in San Bruno, Calif. on Dec. 20, the call to action met the 100,000 signature goal well before its Jan. 19 deadline.
So, what does this mean? For starters, it means that someone from the White House will respond to the petition, according to the White House’s We The People site. “If a petition meets the signature goal within the designated period, the White House will aim to respond to that petition within 60 days wherever possible,” the Terms of Participation page reads. In July 2015, the White House announced it was changing the way it answers petitions. Not only did it want to speed up its response time, the White House said it hired staff that would route eligible petitions to appropriate officials, according to the White House website:
You might not always be happy with what you hear from us, but we’ll be upfront with you about why we can’t take action on a given issue if we can’t — or about why we’re choosing not to. If there’s genuinely nothing we can do, we’re going to let you know. If we agree with you, we’ll let you know. If we’re working on it, we’ll tell you that. And we’ll keep you posted with additional details and related content that we think you might be interested in along the way.
There is some precedent involving White House petitions for pardons. In July 2013, a request to pardon Edward Snowden gained 167,955 signatures. The 32-year-old National Security Agency contractor was charged with espionage for leaking information about top-secret surveillance programs, The Washington Post reported. Snowden was granted asylum by Russia in June 2013 and hasn’t returned to the US since.
On July 28, Lisa Monaco, the Obama's advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism responded to the “Pardon Edward Snowden” petition, saying that Snowden's act of calling out the NSA’s possible wrongdoing unnecessarily broke the law. “The balance between our security and the civil liberties that our ideals and our Constitution require deserves robust debate and those who are willing to engage in it here at home,” she wrote. Monaco also pointed out that balancing civil liberties and security is a difficult task the President is faced with, and Snowden’s move went outside the bounds of whistleblowing — describing the decision as “dangerous.” She continued:
If he felt his actions were consistent with civil disobedience, then he should do what those who have taken issue with their own government do: Challenge it, speak out, engage in a constructive act of protest, and -- importantly -- accept the consequences of his actions. He should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers -- not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime. Right now, he's running away from the consequences of his actions.
Needless to say, this response shows that meeting the threshold doesn’t always mean the White House is going to see it in the petitioner's’ favor. Further, it's unclear if the president even could do anything. The Department of Justice has maintained that the power to pardon rests in the president's hands, but only when the accused was convicted at the federal level, according to TIME. Avery was convicted of a crime against the state of Wisconsin, so Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is technically the only person with the power to pardon Avery.
Maybe once people find out about Walker's power, they'll start sending the petitions his way.
Image: Making a Murderer/Netflix