What is clemency?

Clemency can come in one of three forms: pardons, commutations of sentences, or reprieves. Executive clemency occurs when either a governor (for state crimes) or the President (for federal crimes) issues the pardon or other clemency. You must request a form of clemency and file with the proper reviewing agency in order to seek any sort of pardon or reprieve. Learn how below.

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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...

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UPDATED: Jan 28, 2021

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

So what is executive clemency and what is the procedure to file for it? What is clemency power? Read on for answers.

What is clemency in law? If you’re still unclear, a legal expert can help you.

If you have legal questions, enter your ZIP code below for free advice.

What is a reprieve?

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

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When are sentences commuted?

A commutation of sentence takes place when the conditions of the court-ordered sentence, generally one of imprisonment, receive a reduction to a lesser penalty or jail term. This type of clemency relief does not void the conviction but rather lessens the consequences.

For example, individuals sentenced to the death penalty could have their sentence commuted to a life sentence for murder. However, clemency in death penalty cases is extremely rare.

What happens when a pardon is granted?

When a pardon is granted, the convicted offender receives forgiveness for the crime and its penalty, though it does not grant a judgment of innocence. Leaders such as the head of state or government generally grant 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 criminal conviction, but it can in some jurisdictions remove some of the disqualifications caused by it.

In U.S. history, modern presidents have nearly always granted pardons or clemency to people on their last day in office or shortly before leaving office.

In general, acts of clemency are 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 unjust sentences are imposed. 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 applications or petitions for clemency 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.

What is clemency in law? If you’re still unclear, a legal expert can help you.

If you want to file for clemency or have legal questions, enter your ZIP code below for free advice.

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