You may have heard the term ‘clemency’ come up in a news story, where a prior offender to a crime was granted release and had a previous conviction tossed. Clemency is essentially linked to forgiveness for past crimes and can be obtained in three particular fashions through the criminal justice system. Let’s take a deeper look at some of these terms, and what it can mean for somebody who was previously found guilty of a crime.
One of the three forms of clemency that are seen in the criminal court system is a pardon. This action can come to fruition with the help of a clemency petition, and then may be granted by an executive member of the state or federal government to extend mercy to a convicted person. Among these forms of clemency are pardons. You’ve probably heard of the presidential pardon that can be used by the Commander-in-Chief in the U.S. to offer an act of grace to violators of federal law.
Pardons provide offenders with forgiveness for the crime they’ve committed and the subsequent punishment. However, this is not granting a judgment of innocence, not erasing the criminal conviction from the record. In some jurisdictions in the United States, a pardon can remove some of the disqualifications caused by the guilty rendering. This is sometimes referred to as a conditional pardon when the person is still in prison, and the head of state chooses to alter or end their time behind bars. These acts of clemency are extended for humanitarian reasons most of the time, and also in circumstances when there is doubt concerning guilt.
Commutations of Sentences
When understanding the clemency meaning, you’ll also find that a commutation of sentence falls under this umbrella. Commutation takes place when the conditions of a court’s sentence receive a reduction. This is usually dropping the number of years on a jail term, or reducing the count of conviction. This type of clemency does not void the conviction altogether, but simply lessens the consequences. This can also include remission of any imposed financial obligations as part of a criminal sentence, including a fine or restitituion.
This form of clemency appeal has no effect on a person’s immigration status and will not prevent removal or deportation under certain circumstances. To be eligible for commutation of sentence, a convicted person must have reported to prison to begin serving their sentence. This has become a popular topic under the administrations of President Obama and President Trump, who saw to offer clemency to some prisoners upon exiting the White House. The commutation of a sentence, like a pardon, can also be used as an act of mercy for someone who may be nearing the end of their life.
One last example of clemency is a reprieve. A reprieve is given after a person is convicted, suspending their prison sentence in order to give the guilty person time to find ways to have their sentence reduced. In capital cases, a reprieve of a death sentence is given to suspend execution of the death penalty to determine whether or not this should be imposed. This could lead to a lesser sentence of life in prison or a set number of years.
When the reprieve expires, the sentence will be executed as ordered by the court unless there are circumstances that have changed the initial sentencing. This could result from a clemency appeal. The word reprieve is essentially a temporary suspension of a sentence but differentiates from pardons or commutations, all of which are permanent. Clemency breaks down to clearing the way to reduce sentences or exit prison, but it is not eliminating convictions or guilt.