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
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).
- Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole
- Alaska Board of Parole
- Arizona Governor's Office and Arizona Board of Executive Clemency
- Arkansas Governor's Office
- California Governor's Office
- Colorado Governor's Office
- Connecticut Board of Pardons and Parole
- Delaware Board of Pardons
- Florida Board of Executive Clemency
- Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles
- Hawaii Paroling Authority
- Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole
- Illinois Prisoner Review Board
- Indiana Parole Board
- Iowa Governor's Office
- Kansas Parole Board
- Kentucky Governor's Office
- Louisiana Board of Pardons
- Maine Governor's Board on Executive Clemency
- Maryland Secretary of State Pardons & Commutations and Maryland Parole Commission
- Massachusetts Governor's Council
- Michigan Department of Corrections
- Minnesota Board of Pardons Annual Report (2004)
- Mississippi Governor's Office
- Missouri Department of Corrections
- Montana Board of Pardons and Parole
- Nebraska Board of Pardons
- Nevada Board of Pardons Commissioners
- New Hampshire Governor's Office
- New Jersey State Parole Board
- New Mexico Governor's Office
- New York State Division of Parole: Clemency
- North Carolina Office of Executive Clemency
- North Dakota Pardon Advisory Board
- Ohio Parole Board
- Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board
- Oregon Governor's Office
- Pennsylvania Board of Pardons
- Rhode Island Governor's Office
- South Carolina Dept of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services
- South Dakota Board of Pardons and Paroles
- Tennessee Governor's Office
- Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles: Executive Clemency in Texas
- Utah Board of Pardons and Parole
- Vermont Governor's Office
- Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth
- Washington Clemency and Pardons Board
- West Virginia Governor's Office
- Wisconsin Pardons (State Law Library)
- Wyoming Board of Parole
- Adult Probation and Parole Directory (American Probation and Parole Association)
- Current Governors (National Governors Association)
- Directories of Correctional Departments and Parole Authorities (American Correctional Association) [print]
- Parole Board Chairs International (Association of Paroling Authorities International)
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.
- What's the Difference Between a Pardon and a Commutation?, Slate, Dec. 27, 2000
- How Does a Governor Grant Clemency?, Slate, Nov. 30, 2005
- To Forgive, Divine: The Governor's Pardoning Power, Wisconsin Lawyer, Feb. 2005
- Clemency for Battered Women in Michigan: A Manual for Attorneys, Law Students and Social Workers
This manual was prepared by the Michigan Battered Women's Clemency Project to educate and offer guidance to advocates on behalf of battered women seeking clemency or some form of extra-judicial relief.
- Criminal Justice Policy Foundation (CJPF)
This is a private, non-profit educational organization whose purpose is to educate the public about the impact of drug policy and the problems of policing on the criminal justice system. They have created several excellent resources on clemency:
- State and Federal Guide to Clemency and Commutation of Sentence
This is a national collection of information about the clemency process at the state and federal level. It includes summaries of the procedures, contact information and application forms where available.
- Clemency Policy
This section of their website includes publications and other helpful information.
- Sentencing Project
This is a national organization working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing law and practice, and alternatives to incarceration. Here are their publications concerning clemency and related issues:
- Relief From the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Conviction: A State-By-State Resource Guide
A comprehensive nationwide survey of the laws and practices relating to restoration of rights and obtaining relief from collateral disabilities and penalties.
- Collateral Consequences
This section of their website includes news, publications and research related to prisoner reentry and overcoming the legal impediments created by convictions.
- Federal Executive Clemency in United States, 1789-1995: A Preliminary Report
This is an historical research study on the practice of presidential clemency over the course of US history. The study was conducted by Prof. P.S. Ruckman, Jr., Rock Valley College, IL. Additional research updates can be found here, Jurist: Presidential Pardons Feature.
- Presidential Clemency Actions
The Office of the Pardon Attorney has a collection of statistics on Presidential clemency decisions from 1900 to 2001.
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.
This is a collection of research statistics, open-source academic studies and actual petitions concerning death row clemency.
- American Bar Association Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project
The aim of this project is to seek moratoriums on capital punishment across the country. The site is rich with background materials, reports, state assessment studies, and news about the project's activities and plans.
- Clemency (DPIC)
This is a comprehensive collection of statistics and news concerning clemency actions in death penalty cases maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.