Clemency is a crucial legal concept that can directly impact people who have been convicted of crimes. Essentially, clemency describes the power vested in public officials like the Governor or President to reduce a sentence or restore certain rights that were taken away because of a conviction.  

The actions that fall under the umbrella of clemency include pardons, reprieves, and commutations of sentences.

What Is a Pardon?

A pardon is a form of legal forgiveness issued by the Governor or President, depending on whether the conviction was for a state or federal crime. It doesn’t erase your criminal record or proclaim that you are innocent; instead, it forgives the crime and may reduce some of the penalties associated with the conviction.

A pardon issued by the Governor of the state can only be done when there is a conviction from a California state court. This means if you are looking for relief from convictions originating in other states or federal courts, a pardon from the state of California is not an option.

Additionally, if you have more than one felony conviction in your past, it complicates the process. In such instances, before a pardon can be granted by the governor’s office, they must first have approval from The California Supreme Court.

What Do Pardons Do?

Receiving a pardon doesn’t erase your conviction. It stays on your record, but it does restore certain rights and remove some of the restrictions you face due to that conviction. 

For example, a pardon may: 

  • Allow you to serve on a jury
  • Restore gun rights (in very limited circumstances)
  • Remove a sex offender’s requirement for registration (in very limited cases)
  • Allow a convicted felon to be considered for a probation officer or parole agent position (but not other law enforcement positions)

If the conviction was for a federal offense, the defendant can seek a pardon from the President of the United States. 

What Is a Reprieve?

A reprieve temporarily suspends or delays the carrying out of a punishment, often imprisonment or even execution. It is often referred to as a “stay of execution” for death row inmates – an official postponement that halts their execution, at least temporarily.

While reprieves don’t eliminate sentences entirely and are temporary in nature, they offer an opportunity to either challenge wrongful convictions or ask for reduced sentencing.

Reprieves can be granted for a number of reasons. For example, this can include new evidence raising a concern that the defendant might be innocent, an unfair and overly harsh sentence, or other exigent circumstances that the Governor or President believes warrant a reprieve. 

What Is the Commutation of a Sentence? 

Commutation of a sentence is another form of clemency that doesn’t eliminate the conviction but adjusts the penalty or sentencing. This could mean reducing a death sentence to life imprisonment, changing prison time to house arrest, or shortening a prison term.

This is often used when individuals are serving sentences disproportionate to their crimes. For example, there are many people serving significant prison sentences – sometimes even life in prison – for non-violent drug crimes. 

There have been recent situations in which defendants have had their sentences commuted and have been released from jail because the sentence was later deemed to be disproportionate to the crime. 

Commutation is Limited By Jurisdiction

The authority of the Governor to commute a sentence is limited by jurisdiction. This means if your conviction was secured in another state, country, or under U.S. federal law (rather than California state law), the Governor of California does not have commutation power for that offense.

Similarly, in cases regarding military offenses, which are typically handled through separate legal proceedings within military courts rather than standard criminal courts, the Governor also lacks authority. Instead, executive clemency lies with the President in such instances. 

Our San Diego Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help You Understand Clemency

Understanding clemency can be a complex process with strict limitations, and it shouldn’t be handled without the help of a professional. If you need assistance, we’re here for you. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with a San Diego criminal defense lawyer

Contact a San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer at Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers Today For Help

For more information please contact the San Diego criminal defense attorneys at Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers for a free consultation, give us a call at (619) 357-4977 or visit our convenient location:

Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers – San Diego Criminal Defense Law Firm
255 Broadway, Ste 1740. San Diego, CA. 92101