The Process of Pardons

February 10th, 2016 by Attorney Dan Carman

Kentucky Criminal Defense Lawyer

When Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher left office in 2007, one of his last acts was to issue eight sentence commutations and 93 pardons. The final hours of Governor Steve Beshear’s term in 2015 saw the granting of six commuted sentences and over 200 pardons. Whether it’s based on favoritism or mercy, executive clemency is complicated and controversial.

A pardon formally forgives a defendant and restores certain liberties, such as the right to vote or sit on a jury. It does not imply innocence or erase a criminal record. A commuted sentence reduces and replaces the original, court-ordered sentence, but it, too, does not change the fact of conviction or signify innocence. The power to grant these releases for offenses recognizable under state law rests with governors and, in some states, review boards. For federal offenses, the power of pardon and commutation belongs to the President. In fact, the right of Presidential pardon is explicitly denoted in the U.S. Constitution.

In Kentucky, a person seeking a pardon or a commutation must request an official clemency application directly from the Office of the Governor. Completed applications are suggested to be accompanied by a minimum of three letters of recommendation from sources such as neighbors, employers, co-workers, pastors, church members, elected officials, judges, prosecutors, and family members. A separate letter stating the extenuating circumstances also has to be provided. The Governor’s Deputy Counsel reviews all applications before forwarding them to the Governor for final decision. The entire process is a written one – there are no hearings. Evaluated aspects include the applicant’s candor in the process, the seriousness of the offense, the applicant’s acceptance of responsibility and the applicant’s post-conviction conduct.

Among the pardon requests accepted by Governor Beshear were some from women who had committed crimes against their partners after suffering years of domestic violence and from individuals who had been convicted of drug offenses, but had since become productive members of society. The Governor claimed he reviewed more than 3,400 requests for pardons he received during his eight years in office. While President Obama granted 95 pardons and commutations at Christmas, there is a disturbing backlog of more than 10,000 petitions awaiting investigation and review at the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA). Whether the problem is one of resources, institutional conflict, or something else, the dysfunctional pardon process desperately needs an overhaul in order to be sure justice is delivered. To that end, OPA has announced a plan to hire more attorneys and the President has pledged to support a clemency initiative intended to correct injustices in drug sentencing laws.

If you have any questions about this topic or about submitting the clemency application, you can find out more by discussing it with one of the attorneys at the Lexington, KY-based Carman Law Firm. As criminal defense lawyers with years of experience, we offer thorough, experienced representation. Call today at (859) 685-1055 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.