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The suspension of the execution of the death penalty for a period of time.

Reprieve is generally an act of clemency that is extended to a prisoner in order to give him or her an opportunity to find a means or reason for reducing the sentence imposed.

The term reprieve is also used generally in reference to the withdrawal of any sentence for a period of time.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


n. a temporary delay in imposition of the death penalty (a punishment which cannot be reduced afterwards) by the executive order of the Governor of the state. Reasons for reprieves include the possibility of newly-discovered evidence (another's involvement, evidence of mental impairment), awaiting the result of some last-minute appeal, or concern of the Governor that there may have been some error in the record which he/she should examine. On occasion a reprieve has saved a man found to be innocent. Upon the expiration of the reprieve the date for execution can be reset and the death penalty imposed. A reprieve is only a delay and is not a reduction of sentence, commutation of sentence, or pardon.

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.


1 to postpone or remit the punishment of a person, especially one condemned to death.
2 the postponement or remission itself
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

REPRIEVE, crim. law practice. This term is derived from reprendre, to take back, and signifies the withdrawing of a sentence for an interval of time, and operates in delay of execution. 4 Bl. Com. 394. It is granted by the favor of the pardoning power, or by the court who tried the prisoner.
     3. Reprieves are sometimes granted ex necessitate legis; for example, when a woman is convicted of a capital offence, after judgment she may allege pregnancy in delay of execution. In order, however, to render this plea available she must be quick with child, (q.v.) the law presuming, perhaps absurdly enough, that before that period, life does not commence in the foetus. 3 Inst. 17; 2 Hale, 413; 1 Hale, 368; 4 Bl. Com. 395.
     4. The judge is also bound to grant a reprieve when the prisoner becomes insane. 4 Harg. St. Tr. 205, 6; 3 Inst. 4; Hawk B. 1, c. 1, s. 4; 1 Chit. Cr. Law, 757.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
In his appeal, Haugen argued that the governor had issued what he falsely depicted as a reprieve but actually was an illegal attempt to impede the state's death penalty law.
As the state noted in a brief to the court, "Kings, presidents and governors have long possessed the power to grant individuals clemency in the form of a reprieve, thereby temporarily suspending or delaying an inmate's sentence.
When he announced the reprieve for Haugen, Kitzhaber pointedly declined to commute Haugen's sentence, saying that decision belongs to Oregonians who he hoped would engage in a statewide debate over this most critical of issues.
He argued that Kitzhaber's reprieve isn't valid because it doesn't set a specific date when it will expire, and he also argued that it isn't a reprieve but rather a suspension of the state's death penalty law, something the governor does not have the authority to do.
But Latto also argued that the reprieve isn't a reprieve at all but an effort by the governor to nullify the death penalty.
He voluntarily chose to waive all appeals of the death sentence and was to face execution in 2011, but Kitzhaber issued his reprieve a few weeks before Haugen was to die.
Haugen has challenged Kitz haber's reprieve, and a lower court has ruled in the inmate's favor, saying the governor doesn't have the authority to impose a reprieve on an unwilling offender.
And unlike a reprieve that is based on an inmate agreeing to certain conditions, Haugen has been granted an unconditional reprieve and therefore is not entitled to reject it and cannot force the government to kill him, the governor asserts.
"An inmate simply possesses no power to reject an unconditional reprieve and force his government to execute him," Kitz haber argues in his legal brief.
Last August, a Marion County Circuit Court judge ruled that Haugen could refuse the reprieve. Then the state Supreme Court stepped in and agreed to directly accept Kitzhaber's appeal.
In a brief filed last month, Haugen's attorneys contended that the courts have established that an inmate can reject an "act of clemency," such as Kitzhaber's reprieve. They also called Kitzhaber's reprieve a "ruse" in which the governor unlawfully suspended Oregon's capital punishment laws, which he morally opposes.
The Department of Justice will argue that the governor has the constitutional authority to grant a reprieve to a death row inmate, even if that inmate does not accept it and wants to be executed.