From Paris: Le Monde reports that Maurice Papon was buried on Wednesday with his Légion d'honneur medal, despite widespread opposition. Papon was responsible for the deportation of 1,690 French Jews to Auschwitz during World War II and the mass killing of Algerian demonstrators in Paris in 1961 when he was chief of the Paris police. Libération's story is headlined: "Papon, outside the law even in the tomb."
The Kouchner law
France has its "loi Kouchner," which allows for the early release of prisoners for humanitarian reasons, but what about the U.S.? Executive clemency is our rough equivalent, though it provides no real criteria for deciding whether to release aged or critically-ill prisoners. For example, Oregon's clemency law (ORS 144.649) simply states: "Upon such conditions and with such restrictions and limitations as the Governor thinks proper, the Governor may grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, after convictions, for all crimes and may remit, after judgment therefor, all penalties and forfeitures." Interestingly enough, Oregon law (ORS 144.787) also states that the "youth, advanced age or physical disability" of the victim may be considered an "aggravating circumstance" that can justify a harsher sentence. But the "youth, advanced age or physical disability" of the defendant isn't recognized as a "mitigating circumstance" that could result in a reduced sentence.
State clemency boards are unlikely to recommend clemency without a "compelling justification" or a showing of "extraordinary circumstances."
On the federal level, the power of granting pardons and reprieves is granted to the president under Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, "except in cases of impeachment" (1). During the last thirty years, about 10% of the 600 applications for pardons have been approved.
Road rage revisited
The irate driver who threw a cup of McDonald's soda into another car had her sentence reduced by a Virginia judge from two years in prison to probation. She has been in jail since January 4th but will be released as soon as she clears a warrant from a Mississippi court on an unrelated matter. (Maybe, for now, this result will rein in the endless variations on "McDonald's"—like "McMissile," "McWoman," "McJail" and "McProbation"—that seem to amuse the media every time the company makes the news.)
(1) Though the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of impeachment, Richard Nixon was never formally impeached (or tried) on the House floor.