When a person is convicted of a crime, they are subject to whatever penalties the court will hand down. These penalties can vary. They can include a jail or prison sentence, fines, reparations to victims, house arrest, probation, and more.
For those seeking relief from such punishment, there are limited options available. One of the best known is clemency. So, how to apply for clemency?
Before we consider the process of securing this relief, let’s discuss what it means.
What Is Clemency?
Clemency is a petition made to the state governor by a person convicted of a crime. It is a request to be spared from the remaining burden of the sentencing handed down. If the case was handled in federal court, this request is made to the President.
This relief can come in three main forms. The first is through the granting of a pardon. A pardon is a forgiveness for having committed a crime.
This is granted by the state governor in the case of state convictions. Pardons on federal convictions are granted by the President. In some states, this relief can even be granted before conviction.
The second option is by having the remaining sentence commuted. This relief means that the offender gets a reduced penalty handed down upon conviction.
It can mean having a prison or jail term cut down or converted to probation or parole. Fines and forfeitures can also be reduced.
The last option is to have civil rights restored. Those convicted of felonies normally have some of their civil rights stripped. These include:
While not the only rights that can be lost, these tend to attract the most debate.
Loss of Civil Rights
Some of these rights indicated above can be temporarily affected. This means they may be restored upon meeting certain conditions.
For instance, with voting rights, there are states where restoration is achieved on completing prison sentencing. This happens in states like Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.
However, in Florida, those convicted of murder or sexual offenses permanently lose their voting rights. A similar standard is maintained in Tennessee which also excludes those convicted of treason and voting fraud.
These are not the only rights that felons may lose. Their freedom of movement is restricted while under the supervision of the court. This means that while under parole or probation, they may be confined to specific jurisdictions.
Moving to another state while still under supervision requires approval from the Interstate Compact. It can be a tough process that requires justifying the need for such a move. Both state authorities also have to approve.
Some convictions can also lead to a loss of parental rights. In some states, this happens if convicted of serious offenses like murder.
Often it can be a result of being a single parent. When incarcerated, the child may need to be put in foster care for a prolonged period. To take custody of the child and allow them to be adopted, parental rights may be terminated.
Other rights that can be affected include:
- The right to hold public office
- The right to participate in government contracts
- Right to apply for citizenship or residency
- Right to access certain public benefits
- The right to student financial aid (FAFSA)
- The right to acquire certain professional or occupational licenses
Many of these rights are lost depending on the type of crime committed and jurisdiction. Different states can have different rules that apply to this matter.
Benefits of Clemency
If granted clemency, a person may have their criminal records expunged, sealed, or cleared. This relief is helpful as it allows the person to honestly state that they have no criminal record.
When applying for jobs, background checks are often mandatory. Offenders have to sign consent forms and answer questions about criminal history. This relief allows them to identify as non-offenders.
It makes it easier to secure jobs. This is a common problem for felons who are highly discriminated against. Employers are less inclined to choose them over someone without a criminal record.
Another benefit of clemency is freedom. By having a sentence commuted, the offender is released and able to go home. They may still however need to serve out their sentence under parole or probation.
Sentence commutation can also apply to a death sentencing. While the person will not be released, they will not be subjected to execution. This relief can also be applied as a reduction in fines.
Other obvious benefits include the restoration of civil rights. This means being able to once again possess a firearm, vote, hold public office, and earn certain licenses.
Clemency can also provide immunity from prosecution. For this to happen, the relief must be granted before a conviction.
Note that in some states a pardon does not automatically lead to the restoration of rights. You may still need to make a separate application for this.
How to Apply for Clemency?
The rules tend to vary widely depending on the jurisdiction. In some state cases, one need only to apply directly to the governor’s office.
In other instances, there is a state agency appointed to this task. The agency board will review applications and make recommendations to the governor. Some jurisdictions require that civil rights be restored through a court process.
In each case, there is typically some application process. The applicant must give reasons why they are deserving of such relief. This should take the form of both factual and legal arguments.
They must also state why it is in the public and their own interest to have this granted. The variety of forms and supporting documentation for this can vary according to state.
There is also often a waiting period that is applied. In federal cases, the applicant must wait at least 5 years from sentence completion. This waiting period may vary when it comes to state cases.
Applicants must also have maintained a clean criminal record during that period.
Consulting an attorney is a good way to get this process started. They can advise you on how best to make this request. They can also let you know your eligibility and chances of success.