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Criminal Justice Resources - Clemency Law

By Ken Strutin, Published on May 29, 2007

Ken Strutin (JD, MLS) is an experienced law librarian, criminal defense attorney, and well-known writer and speaker. He is the author of The Insider's Guide: Criminal Justice Resources on the Internet, and has lectured extensively about the benefits of using the Internet for legal research at national and local CLE training programs. Mr. Strutin also wrote ALI-ABA's Practice Checklist Manual on Representing Criminal Defendants, and co-authored the award winning Legal Research Methodology computer tutorial, published by the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). He has contributed chapters to several books and written many articles concerning knowledge management, legal research and criminal law. Mr. Strutin has taught courses in Advanced Legal Research and Law Office Management. He is also listed in Who's Who in American Law. Currently, Mr. Strutin is the Director of Legal Information Services at the New York State Defenders Association and writes a column for the New York Law Journal.

Introduction

For centuries, executive clemency in its various forms has been used to adjust the scales of justice. This unique power has most often been applied in political contexts, and less frequently to grant relief from unjust convictions or excessive punishments. See Daniel T. Kobil, The Quality of Mercy Strained: Wresting the Pardoning Power From the King, 69 Tex. L. Rev. 569 (1991).

Generally, an executive may exercise clemency to right a wrong, reduce a sentence or restore full citizenship rights (such as voting, licensing, holding political office, etc.); in the form of amnesty it relieves an entire group of people from prosecution or punishment; and a pardon will lift civil and criminal sanctions for an individual. Stopping short of full relief we find other options including: a commutation or sentence reduction; a reprieve suspending or delaying imposition of punishment; and a remission of fines, forfeitures or restitution. Lastly, a moratorium can be declared temporarily prohibiting enforcement of onerous or unjust laws. See generally Chp. 2 "Introduction to Clemency" in Clemency for Battered Women in Michigan: A Manual for Attorneys, Law Students and Social Workers (MBWCP). And these remedies may be given on full, partial or conditional terms.

This article surveys select online resources for seeking clemency as well as guides and research materials on the administration of this important form of relief.

  • Federal and State Sources
  • Clemency Research
  • Death Penalty
  • Petition Sites
  • Advocacy Projects

Federal and State Sources

Each jurisdiction has an advisory group, governor's council, parole board or some office that provides applicants with forms and guidelines for seeking clemency and related forms of relief, and publishes standards and regulations, statistics, and other data. Some sites report on outcomes, in other cases the information appears in press releases issued by the executive, and the newspaper often reports on grants of clemency. The clemency offices or pardon counsel review applications and sometimes hold hearings before passing on a recommendation.

The links below are to the governors' offices, parole boards, departments of corrections and other sites responsible for coordinating clemency applications. For a complete description of procedures, copies of applications and contact information, see State and Federal Guide to Clemency and Commutation of Sentence (CJPF).

Federal

US Office of the Pardon Attorney

State

Directories

Clemency Research

The inner workings of the clemency decision-making process have been brought to light through the research studies of advocacy groups, news media and academicians.

Basics

Guides

Studies

Presidential Pardons (Jurist 2004)
This is an annotated guide to research materials, mostly historic, on Presidential clemency practices.

Pardon Statistics From Other States (2005)
The Connecticut General Assembly published this report surveying the recent clemency activities of other states.

Death Penalty

This is a collection of research statistics, open-source academic studies and actual petitions concerning death row clemency.

Research

Clemency and Executions (CapDefNet)
This site maintains a collection of articles, petitions, statements by legislators and data on federal death penalty developments related to clemency applications. The page is maintained by the Capital Defense Network.

Petitions

Death Row Clemency Reports (OH)
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has compiled and published clemency reports submitted in cases of death row inmates.

Finding Aid for the Capital Punishment Clemency Petitions Collection, Circa 1985-Ongoing (2006)
This collection includes approximately 150 clemency petitions filed by inmates nationwide. It is maintained by the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives at the State University at Albany, NY.

Academic Studies

Memorializing Miscarriages of Justice: Clemency Petitions in the Killing State (2006)
In this paper, Prof. Austin Sarat, Amherst College, MA, examines the role played by clemency petitions in capital cases to document problems in the current death penalty system.

Mercy by the Numbers: An Empirical Analysis of Clemency and Its Structure, 89 Va. L. Rev. 239 (2003) (SSRN)
This abstract describes a study conducted by Prof. Michael Heise, Cornell University Law School, that reviewed 27 years of death penalty and clemency data to identify the factors influencing decisions to grant or deny relief in capital cases.

Staying Alive: Executive Clemency, Equal Protection, and the Politics of Gender in Women's Capital Cases, 4 Buff. Crim. L. Rev. 967 (2001) (SSRN)
Prof. of Law, Elizabeth Rapaport, University of New Mexico, focuses on the impact of politics on clemency decisions in cases involving women on death row.

Petition Sites

Applications for clemency or similar relief that have been filed can be found on some official government sites or in the collections noted above. And they sometimes appear on the websites of advocacy groups, law firms representing petitioners, or privately created web pages. Notably, many applicants look to the grassroots power of the Internet to gain support for their appeals. Listed below are a couple of Internet sites that allow public petitions to be posted. A site search using a clemency-related term or a specific name will bring up the relevant documents.

Advocacy Projects

Petitions are filed by applicants independently, through lawyers, academics, and many others often working pro bono. Their activities can be discovered through news and web searches using the key terms from the opening paragraph. Listed here are select clemency advocacy projects based in academic and private settings.