Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Full Bio →

Written by

UPDATED: Mar 29, 2018

Advertiser Disclosure

It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.

We strive to help you make confident insurance and legal decisions. Finding trusted and reliable insurance quotes and legal advice should be easy. This doesn’t influence our content. Our opinions are our own.

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.

Clemency under the criminal justice system is the act by an executive member of government of extending mercy to a convicted individual. In the United States, clemency is granted by a governor for state crimes and by a president for federal crimes. Clemency can take one of three forms: a reprieve, a commutation of sentence, or a pardon.

Reprieves

A reprieve is given to suspend the execution of a sentence in order to give the prisoner time to find ways to have it reduced. With respect to capital cases, a reprieve is given to suspend the execution of the death penalty for a period of time to consider whether or not it should be imposed.

Get Legal Help Today

Find the right lawyer for your legal issue.

 Secured with SHA-256 Encryption

Commuting a Sentence

A commutation of sentence takes place when the sentence, generally one of imprisonment, is reduced to a lesser penalty or jail term. This type of clemency does not void the conviction.

Pardons

When a pardon is granted, the convicted offender is forgiven the crime and its penalty. A head of state or government generally grants it when the convicted individual has fulfilled his or her debt to society or is somehow otherwise worthy of being forgiven the crime. A pardon does not erase the conviction, but it can in some jurisdictions remove some of the disqualifications caused by it.

In general, clemency is often extended for humanitarian reasons, such as to an aged and ill inmate who needs specialized medical care. It is also extended to offenders when there is doubt concerning guilt or when the sentence given is excessive. Finally, in some cases, clemency can be extended as a favor to an executive’s political friends or cronies.

Clemency must often be requested by application or petition before it is granted. In most jurisdictions, these applications first must be filed with a reviewing agency such as the state board of pardon and parole before being seen by the appropriate government head.