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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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Clemency and Pardons in the Federal System – Lawyer Perspective

By Spodek Law Group | October 20, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 08:45 pm


Clemency and Pardons in the Federal System – Lawyer Perspective

As a lawyer who has worked on federal clemency and pardon cases, I wanted to provide some insights into how these processes work and what factors lawyers consider when advising clients.

What is Clemency and How Does it Work?

Clemency is the constitutionally-authorized power of the President to grant mercy or leniency in the form of a pardon, commutation of sentence, reprieve, or remission of fines and forfeitures. It’s an important check on the judicial system that allows the President to show mercy in appropriate cases. Statistics show that while thousands apply, only a few hundred are granted each year.

The Office of the Pardon Attorney in the Department of Justice assists the President in the exercise of executive clemency. They review clemency applications and provide recommendations. The final decision rests with the President.

There are two main types of clemency:

  • A pardon forgives a federal crime and restores certain civil rights lost as a result of the conviction. It does not erase the conviction or imply innocence.
  • A commutation of sentence reduces or eliminates the punishment for a federal crime. It does not change the fact of conviction, imply innocence, or remove civil disabilities.

Other forms like reprieves and remissions are rarely used nowadays.

When Do Clients Seek Clemency?

In my experience, clients typically seek clemency for a few reasons:

  • They received a harsh sentence and want early release from prison through a commutation.
  • They served their time long ago and now want a pardon to relieve the civil disabilities of a conviction.
  • Compassionate release due to old age, illness, or extraordinary rehabilitation.

Many clients have unrealistic expectations about the likelihood of success. I explain that clemency is rare and they should temper their hopes. Recent administrations grant only a fraction of petitions, focusing on particular policy goals or miscarriages of justice.

Building a Persuasive Clemency Petition

A good clemency petition must make two showings:

  1. The client deserves mercy.
  2. Granting clemency will further the President’s policy goals.

To show merit, we gather evidence of rehabilitation, remorse, good conduct in prison, family responsibilities, health conditions, or unfair treatment. Letters of support from prosecutors, judges, or victims can be influential. I advise clients to take responsibility and show changed behavior.

Next, we explain how clemency would further the President’s goals like correcting injustices, reducing overcrowding, or showing mercy to certain groups. Tying the client’s story to administration policies is key.

It’s also essential to follow the Office of the Pardon Attorney’s rules exactly. Any errors or omissions will sink the petition.

The Clemency Process and Timeline

Here are the typical steps in a federal commutation of sentence case:

  1. A client receives a lengthy prison sentence.
  2. After serving several years, the client retains me to prepare a clemency petition.
  3. I gather documents like pre-sentence reports, trial transcripts, disciplinary records, and evidence of rehabilitation.
  4. We submit the petition to the Office of the Pardon Attorney.
  5. They review it and refer it to the FBI for background checks.
  6. The Office makes a recommendation to the President.
  7. If granted, it takes 2-3 months to process and release the client.

This process takes 1-2 years minimum. The wait is frustrating for desperate families. I warn clients that clemency is never guaranteed, even with a strong case.

Pardons After Release from Prison

For clients who already served their sentence, a pardon can relieve civil disabilities and the stigma of a conviction. Pardons restore rights like voting, jury service and gun ownership.

These petitions highlight contributions to society since release, like steady employment, community service, and family responsibilities. We must convince the President the individual deserves forgiveness and a second chance.

The downside is that pardons require a 5-year waiting period after release. The process still takes 18-24 months from application to decision.


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