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, because the terms “clemency” and “pardon” are often inter-changeable but rule of thumb is clemency means “mercy” and a pardon means “forgiveness” as in the person rights are restored. Pardon is typically the reference used for a “full pardon” (see below) Clemency is typically reference when there has been a sentence commutation or reduction of sentence. There are still lots of people who received clemency from President Obama who are still in prison because their sentence was only reduced. In some cases an inmate can ask to have their fine or probation “commuted” but that’s highly unusual.
Q. If my clemency petition is granted, will I get an immediate release?
A . Alice Johnson got an immediate release, so it appears the Trump administration may return to that procedure. I received an immediate release under President Clinton, but no one during the Obama administration did. A new rule was established at the Pardon Office during the George W. Bush administration that requires prisoners to remain in prison an additional period of time even after the President signs the clemency petition. We will continue to monitor this during the Trump administration but we are pleased that Alice got an immediate release.
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 was not the case if prisoners filed through President Obama’s Clemency Project 2014 (CP14). They relaxed those stipulations. We do not know what the Trump administration is going to do.
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.