Having a felony conviction on record can make life more difficult. Depending on the felony committed, ex-felons may have some rights revoked. For example, criminal disenfranchisement laws mean that many felons do not have voting rights.
This may feel unfair to ex-felons who have learned from their past and are on a better life path.
Felons still in prison face the frustration of losing access to many rights. They may be serving overly severe sentences. Ex-felons and felons alike may wonder if there is a way to reduce the penalties of their conviction. Clemency is one possible way to reduce the impact of a felony conviction.
What Is Clemency?
Clemency is when a government official reduces the penalties for a convicted criminal offense. Clemency is an option in cases where the penalties for a conviction are unjust or excessive. It may occur when someone is still in prison or after their release. One example of clemency is reducing prison sentences. Another example is restoring voting rights upon return to society.
The two categories of clemency are pardons and commutations of sentences.
A pardon will generally return civil rights like voting to ex-felons who are out of prison. A pardon will not always return rights to own firearms. This depends on the specific orders of the pardon.
Commutation of Sentence
A commutation of sentence will shorten a prison sentence for an incarcerated felon. Release may occur right away, or shortly after the commutation.
Clemency laws vary by state. The Restoration of Rights Project has a list of state laws about restoration of felon rights.
The purpose of clemency is to grant relief to felons convicted under older, stricter laws. The government is starting to recognize that U.S. prisons is a problem. Many prisoners and ex-felons are facing overly severe sentences and penalties as a result of older laws. Clemency provides relief for these offenders. It also may provide relief from excessive consequences for offenders who have demonstrated rehabilitation.
Granting clemency has many benefits. It can encourage offenders to take accountability and pursue rehabilitation. It can relieve offenders from unjust sentences. It also can increase the wellbeing of our society by help rehabilitated offenders to become productive members of society.
Who Qualifies for A Pardon?
The United States Department of Justice suggests several factors go into whether an offender qualifies for a clemency pardon.
Someone who shows positive change in character is more likely to receive a pardon. Someone looking to receive a pardon should put effort into rehabilitation. Educational and work productivity shows government officials that positive change has occurred. Community service and charitable activities are another way to show positive change.
Seriousness of offense
Someone convicted of a minor offense is more likely to receive a pardon. An example of this is a minor drug charge. It can be harder to receive a pardon for a serious crime such as violent offenses or major drug trafficking.
Length of time since conviction
Older crimes are more likely to receive a pardon than more recent crimes. Length of time is especially important when seeking pardon from a serious crime. There is a five year waiting period from release to apply for a federal pardon.
Acceptance of responsibility
It’s helpful when an offender takes responsibility for their actions. An offender should acknowledge their mistakes and show signs of learning new ways. Making amends to the victims of the crime is a good idea. This shows that an offender has remorse and is motivated to do what is right going forward.
Need for pardon
Those who have a convincing need for a pardon may be more likely to receive it. An example is an offender who has worked hard to make amends and undergo rehabilitation. They are now seeking employment but cannot apply without a pardon. Officials may grant a pardon to help the offender become a productive member of society.
Reports from the officials involved in the criminal case play a role in whether a pardon is an option. An offender who showed poor behavior during their trial and sentence may have a hard time obtaining a pardon. An offender who cooperated during their trial and sentence is more likely to receive a pardon. This helps to show they have a strong character.
Who Qualifies for a Commutation?
Several factors go into whether an offender qualifies for a commutation of sentence. To receive a commutation the following must be true:
The offender is already serving their sentence
The offender is not applying for an appeal
The offender is not challenging their sentence through other court proceedings
Reasons government officials may grant a commutation include the following:
Illness or old age
Cooperation throughout criminal investigation and sentence
Demonstration of rehabilitation
Amount of time served
Federal Vs. State Clemency
Applications for clemency can file under federal or state clemency.
Apply for federal clemency if the crime committed was a federal crime. The government classifies a crime as federal for different reasons. Examples of crimes that are often dealt with at the federal level are listed below.
- An act that breaks federal law
- Offenses that take place on federal land
- Crimes committed against the government
- Terrorist activity
- A criminal act carried out in more than one state
- Some aggravated crimes
- Crimes with intent to harm
The President of the United States is in charge of granting federal clemency.
Apply for state clemency if the crime committed was a state crime. Most crimes that occur are state crimes. Examples of crimes that are often dealt with at the state level are listed below.
The governor of the state is generally in charge of state clemency.
How to Apply for Federal Clemency
If you committed a federal crime you will want to apply for federal clemency. Apply for federal clemency through The United States Department of Justice. Instructions and application forms are available through the Office of the Pardon Attorney. Below are the steps to apply for federal clemency.
Step 1: Fill out forms
The first step to applying for federal clemency is to fill out the application form. There are separate forms for the pardon application and the commutation of sentence application. Type answers or print them in ink. If the offender would like to include extended answers, they can attach extra pages to the form. If the offender has other documentation that may be helpful to the application, they can attach it to the form. It is important to give honest and complete answers to the questions. Dishonest answers can result in further charges and penalties.
Step 2: Submit application
The second step is to submit the application for reviews. Submit applications to the Office of the Pardon Attorney. An email link is in the instructions for both the pardon and commutation of sentence application.
Step 3: Await final decision
A hearing is not required when applying for clemency. When a decision is made, the offender will receive a notification. Offenders have a one year waiting period before re-applying in the case of rejection.
How to Apply for State Clemency
If you committed a state crime you will want to apply for state clemency. Apply for state clemency through official state websites. Laws about clemency eligibility and application process vary from state to state. The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation contains state-by-state information on clemency. The website has information on each state’s eligibility laws. It also has links to applications, submission guidelines, and contact information for the state board of parole.
Some offenders might not realize that clemency is an option for them. The purpose of clemency is to relieve offenders of excessive sentences and penalties. Offenders convicted under older, stricter laws are likely to be facing overly extreme penalties.
The two categories of clemency are pardons and commutations of sentence. A commutation of sentence occurs when the government grants an incarcerated offender a shorter sentence. A commutation of sentence may be an option for incarcerated offenders serving excessive sentences. A pardon occurs when the government returns civil rights to an ex-offender. A pardon may be an option for released offenders dealing with excessive penalties.
Several factors go into whether an offender may be eligible for clemency. Offenders with older or minor offenses have a better chance of receiving clemency. Offenders have shown rehabilitative efforts are also more likely to receive clemency. Offenders who have a need for clemency are more likely to receive it. For example, offenders who require clemency in order to apply for a job may be granted clemency. This allows them to become productive members of society.
Federal criminals must apply for a federal clemency while state criminals must apply for a state clemency. Application forms and instructions for federal clemency are on the United States Department of Justice website. Application forms and instructions for state clemency are on official state websites or through the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.