Philadelphia Criminal Law News

Petitioning for Clemency in Pennsylvania

Stemming from the lofty legal ideals of fairness, justice, and forgiveness, clemency is a legal act of grace.

An individual can petition for clemency, which formally requests a public official to lower or moderate the severity of his or her punishment. Clemency does not mean leniency but tempering justice with mercy.

Here are the various types of clemency and who can grant it in Pennsylvania:

  • Pardons. A pardon may reduce or entirely set aside a sentence, even before formal charges or convictions are acquired. It may be a full and complete pardon or a conditional one. Rest assured, they are not limited to turkeys.
  • Commuted sentences. A commutation of sentence is a more limited form of clemency than a pardon. It does not remove the criminal stigma associated with the crime; it merely substitutes a milder sentence. They are often granted for good behavior and for a likelihood of full rehabilitation.
  • Reprieves. A reprieve is a temporary suspension of the execution of a sentence. They are especially common in death penalty cases and situations involving overcrowded facilities. Reprieves buy time. Although they don't get rid of a case, reprieves give attorneys more time to prove their clients' innocence on appeal or through the discovery of new evidence. They also allow more time to consider whether a full pardon or a commutation of a sentence is appropriate.
  • Amnesty. Amnesty is a form of clemency granted to certain groups of people who have committed a criminal offense -- usually of a political nature -- that threatens the sovereignty of the government (such as sedition or treason). Through amnesty these defendants are granted immunity from prosecution.
  • Clemency power. In general, clemency is granted by the U.S. President for federal crimes and state governors for state crimes. However, clemency procedures vary from state to state. In 15 of the nation's states, the governor has full and sole authority to grant clemency, according to the ACLU. In seven states, including Pennsylvania, the governor must obtain the recommendation of clemency from a board or advisory group. In yet other states, a board or advisory group has the sole discretion to grant clemency.

For help on filing an application for clemency -- which costs $8 in Pennsylvania -- consider consulting a criminal defense attorney.

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