clemency


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Clemency

Leniency or mercy. A power given to a public official, such as a governor or the president, to in some way lower or moderate the harshness of punishment imposed upon a prisoner.

Clemency is considered to be an act of grace. It is based on the policy of fairness, justice, and forgiveness. It is not a right but rather a privilege, and one who is granted clemency does not have the crime forgotten, as in Amnesty, but is forgiven and treated more leniently for the criminal acts. Clemency is similar to pardon inasmuch as it is an act of grace exempting someone from punishment. Commutation of an offender's sentence, however, is the lessening of the punishment based on the offender's own good conduct subsequent to his conviction.

Although clemency is a privilege and not a right, questions have arisen as to whether a prisoner sentenced to death is entitled to certain constitutional rights during a clemency proceeding. States that impose the death penalty require a clemency review before a prisoner is executed. For example, Ohio requires the state Parole authority to conduct a clemency review 45 days before the date of execution and file its report with the governor. As part of the review the prisoner may request an interview with a parole board member but the prisoner does not have the right to have an attorney present.

An Ohio death row inmate objected to the interview on two grounds, contending it violated his Fifth Amendment right against Self-Incrimination and his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. He insisted that he should not have to make a choice between seeking clemency and remaining silent about the crime he had been convicted of, and of other crimes he may have committed. A federal appeals court agreed with the inmate that the process violated his Fifth Amendment right, but the Supreme Court reversed the decision in Ohio Adult Parole Authority v. Woodard, 523 U.S. 272, 118 S.Ct. 1244, 140 L.Ed.2d 387 (1998).

The Supreme Court found that the inmate did not have any due process rights because clemency could only be given at the discretion of the governor. Moreover, the Executive Branch, not the judicial branch, conducted the process. In addition, the Court cited prior rulings where it had stated that pardon and commutation proceedings have not traditionally been the business of courts and are rarely, if ever, appropriate subjects for Judicial Review. As to the Fifth Amendment argument, the Court ruled that the inmate had to exercise the same choice he had made at trial: to testify or to remain silent. In the Ohio clemency process, the inmate has a choice of providing information—at the risk of damaging his case for clemency or for post-conviction relief—or of remaining silent.

Acts of clemency are usually issued in isolated cases. In 2002, however, outgoing governor George Ryan announced that he had concerns about the fairness of Illinois judicial proceedings against 160 death row inmates, which compelled him to begin clemency review proceedings into their crimes. During the fall of 2002 a special review board conducted public hearings and private reviews concerning each inmate's case. Relatives of victims gave emotional testimony, while attorneys for the inmates pointed out troublesome charges, including the use of torture on suspects to make them confess. In January 2003, Governor Ryan took the unprecedented step of granting clemency to all the death row inmates. He pardoned four inmates who he believed were not guilty; the remainder of the inmates were given life sentences. Ryan concluded that the legal process surrounding Capital Punishment had become so corrupted that he had no choice but to grant clemency.

Further readings

Burnett, Cathleen. 2002. Justice Denied: Clemency Appeals in Death Penalty Cases. Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press.

Davey, Monica, and Steve Mills. 2003. "Ryan Issues Blanket Clemency." Chicago Tribune (January 11).

Gagne, Patricia. 1998. Battered Women's Justice: The Movement for Clemency and the Politics of Self-Defense. New York: Twayne.

Cross-references

Due Process of Law; Prisoners' Rights.

clemency

noun absolution, amnesty, benefaction, beneficence, benevolence, benignity, charity, clementia, clementness, commutation, compassion, consideration, disposition to mercy, disposition to pardon, excuse, exemption, extenuation, forbearance, forgiveness, generosity, generousness, gentleness, good will, grace, humaneness, humanity, indemnity, indulgence, kindness, leniency, lenity, liberality, magnanimity, mansuetuda, mercifulness, mercy, obligingness, pardon, pardoning, purgation, release, reprieve, respite, tolerance, toleration, willingness to forgive
Associated concepts: clemency by the Governor, clemency by the President of the United States, Executive clemency
See also: benevolence, charity, condonation, consideration, grace, humanity, indulgence, lenience, pardon

CLEMENCY. The disposition to treat with leniency. See Mercy; Pardon.

References in classic literature ?
The door was opened before he had reached it, and, as if to put his clemency to rout with the suggestion of a richer opportunity, Mrs.
van der Luyden's attitude said neither yes nor no, but always appeared to incline to clemency till her thin lips, wavering into the shadow of a smile, made the almost invariable reply: "I shall first have to talk this over with my husband.
It seemed that Caddy's unfortunate papa had got over his bankruptcy--"gone through the Gazette," was the expression Caddy used, as if it were a tunnel--with the general clemency and commiseration of his creditors, and had got rid of his affairs in some blessed manner without succeeding in understanding them, and had given up everything he possessed (which was not worth much, I should think, to judge from the state of the furniture), and had satisfied every one concerned that he could do no more, poor man.
But the knowledge would have been useless here; it was not called for; neither clemency nor dignity was put to the trial -- Eleanor brought no message.
Clemency is a fine, royal virtue, which turns aside the currents of wrath.
clemency is the only light which can enlighten the interior of so great a soul.
If Heaven has suffered certain crimes to be committed, and has concealed them in the shadow of its clemency, I will not permit Madame de Chevreuse to counteract the just designs of fate.
But my clemency is always ready to descend upon the vanquished.
Both the good women kept strict silence during the whole scene between Mr Allworthy and the girl; but as soon as it was ended, and that gentleman was out of hearing, Mrs Deborah could not help exclaiming against the clemency of her master, and especially against his suffering her to conceal the father of the child, which she swore she would have out of her before the sun set.
Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due.
At length the day broke, and poor Mrs Quilp, shivering with cold of early morning and harassed by fatigue and want of sleep, was discovered sitting patiently on her chair, raising her eyes at intervals in mute appeal to the compassion and clemency of her lord, and gently reminding him by an occasion cough that she was still unpardoned and that her penance had been of long duration.
The Constitution entrusts the president with the all-but-unlimited ability to forgive federal crimes, but presidents have become increasingly reluctant to wield their clemency power (Crouch 2009, 2).