As someone who has actually been through the process of receiving executive clemency (I served 9 years of a 24 year sentence before being granted clemency by President Bill Clinton), I thought I would share some important factual information that may help you understand the Pardon Process.
Q and A about Pardons
Q. What is a pardon vs. clemency vs. a commutation?
A. It’s confusing, but the word “pardon” often applies to the two different kinds of pardons. It can mean a “full pardon” (see below) or a pardon can come in the form of “clemency” which is typically a “commutation” of a prison sentence. To “commute” a sentence, means to reduce it. In some cases an inmate can ask to have their fine or probation “commuted” but that’s highly unusual, so we suggest that you focus on a commutation of sentence because you don’t want to jeopardize your case being denied due to a request for a commutation of your fine or probation. The Pardon Attorney can recommend that only a portion of the sentence be commuted – but more often than not, the balance of the sentence is commuted and the prisoner is released.
Q. If my clemency petition is granted, will I get an immediate release?
A . Not anymore – although that used to be the case. A new rule was established at the Pardon Office that requires prisoners to remain in prison an additional period of time even after the President signs the clemency petition. Sometimes the prison will work to get an inmate into a half-way house based on the “new” release date, but that’s up to each warden and the inmate. In almost every case we are familiar with, the person receiving a commutation will still serve the probation prong of their sentence. Only in rare occasions if you are a friend to the president, like Scooter Libby, do you get special treatment.
Q. Can I file for clemency if I have other appeals going?
A. Typically, you can only file for clemency (a commutation of sentence) if you have exhausted your appeal process. But that is not the case if you are filing through Clemency Project 2014 (CP14).
Q. What happens if I am denied clemency?
A. If you are denied clemency, you can file again in 1 year.
Q. What is a “full pardon?”
A. Typically, you can apply for a FULL PARDON after completing the probation period plus five years off paper without any legal complications, thus establishing that you’ve been an upstanding citizen for a period of time. A full pardon restores your rights to vote and lifts many punitive restrictions that often attaches to “felons.”
Q. Will I be able to vote if I receive clemency?
A. A commutation does not restore your rights. It merely commutes your sentence, but every state is different. Empower yourself and try to vote regardless. In many states you cannot vote, but in California, a felony status does not prohibit a felon from voting.