Clemency in the criminal law system is when someone from the executive branch of the government makes a decision to essentially pardon that individual. It is a situation where it is most common for this to be the governor or the president. The governor can only provide clemency on state related crimes. This means that if someone were charged in state court and do not have any connection to federal law, then the governor can help. The president can only give clemency in federal crimes. This means that one would have had to go to federal court and this would have a direct connection to federal law. In state court, the most common examples are people who are facing death and the governor can make a last minute decision on their innocence if the evidence for their innocence is adding up. In Federal cases, it is most common for these to be drug crimes where the president believes that someone is serving too long of a period of time for a non-violent crime. During the Obama administration for example, the president gave clemency to over 300 people on the grounds that they thought that someone serving a life sentence for non-violent drug crimes should be able to get out after a certain amount of time.

Types of Clemency

Clemency can be given in three different types, a reprieve, commuting a sentence, or a pardon. A reprieve is a way to suspend a sentence so that the sentence is not imposed. In death penalty cases, the governor can grant a reprieve or a stay of execution in order to produce more evidence to show the individual is innocent. Commuting a sentence is when the executive official says that their conviction is still valid but they are going to basically give them credit for time served at that point. An example would be someone serving a 30-year sentence. After 20 years, the executive official could commute that sentence and let them out at the 20-year mark.

Definition of Clemency

By definition clemency is defined as leniency or going easy on someone else and that is exactly what it is in the legal system. When someone applies for clemency they are not making what is called an “actual innocence” petition. They are instead admitting that they are guilty and instead asking for leniency by their government officials because they believe that their life circumstances give them the opportunity to be let free. This is hard for a lot of prisoners who struggle with the idea that they believe they were wrongfully convicted. For a prisoner to struggle their entire life trying to prove their innocence and now admit that they were guilty but note that they want to get out for other reasons, is sometimes tough for a prisoner to accept.

How can you get Clemency?

To get clemency one would have to apply to their government official who can hear the case. Remember a governor can only give clemency in state cases and the president can only give clemency in federal cases. There are tons of packets online for this if you research the office of either the governor or the president. In California for example you can obtain that information here, and it shows you exactly how to download the packet and move forward with the process.