What is Clemency?
Clemency is a type of forgiveness for a crime, granted either by the governor of a state for a state crime, or the President of the United States for a federal crime. There are different types of clemency:
- Reprieve, and
- Commutation of aSsentence.
Reprieve as a Form of Clemency
A reprieve is granted in capital cases, to suspend the execution for a period of time while considering whether it should be imposed. Although television shows and movies often portray a reprieve as clemency which comes at the last few seconds prior to an execution, in fact it usually occurs significantly before then.
Commutation of a Sentence
Commuting a sentence is a second type of clemency, and while commutation does not void a conviction, it usually reduces the penalty for the crime. As an example, many people currently in our prisons are serving extremely long—even life—sentences for non-violent drug crimes. Because of this, many presidents will commute this type of sentence more than others, in the interest of justice. As an example, former President Obama recently commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning.
A commutation can totally or partially reduce the sentence being served, however it does not imply innocence or any of the facts surrounding the commutation. Commutations can, through what is known as a remission, release a prisoner of the financial obligations such as fines or restitution, but will apply only to the part of the obligation which has not already been paid—no refunds for what has already been paid. Immigration status is not affected by a commuted sentence, and cannot stop a deportation.
Pardons Granted by the President of the United States
Finally, a pardon can be granted when the convicted individual has either clearly fulfilled his or her debt to society, or is otherwise worthy of having his or her crime forgiven. While a pardon will not erase a conviction, it can, in some instances, remove some of the disqualifications which were attached to the conviction, such as the inability to vote, hold public office or own a firearm. In order to obtain a pardon, the applicant must admit his or her guilt.
This can be a difficult requirement for the person who has exhausted all other appeal processes, and who has proclaimed innocence since the conviction. In other words, in order to receive a pardon, a person who is absolutely innocent, will nonetheless be required to admit guilt. A pardon can also help bring the applicant eligibility for employment, bonding or professional licenses. A pardon will, in some circumstances, eliminate the threat of removal or deportation from the United States. Currently, a Presidential pardon is the only way a person who has been convicted of a federal felony to regain the right to own a firearm.
Additional Issues Related to Clemency
Clemency, whether in the form of a pardon, a commutation or a reprieve, is quite often given for humanitarian reasons. As an example, there may be doubt concerning guilt, the inmate could be elderly, or could be suffering from a serious illness, or the original sentence may now seem excessive. There are also cases in which a governor or President may grant clemency as a favor to friends or political acquaintances. While there is no fee for applying for clemency, it can be beneficial to have an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney assist you with your clemency application.
If you submit an application which is not complete, or has mistakes, the length of time it takes to get an answer regarding your application can be extended. Applicants may attach letters in support of their clemency application; for those specifically requesting a pardon, the personal oath must be executed in the presence of a notary public, and must be accompanied with three notarized character affidavits. If you believe you are eligible for clemency, speak to a criminal defense attorney to determine your best course of action.