Understanding Clemency, Commutation, and Pardons


Clemency, Commutations and PardonsIn order for someone serving a sentence of Life Without Parole, for marijuana or any crime, to be released, with rare exceptions they will need to receive a commutation of sentence in the form of executive clemency and/or pardon.  For the federal marijuana prisoners the Marijuana Lifer Project works with, this must come from the President of the United States.  For state prisoners, this comes from the governor of a state.  Know that a case is either federal or state, but never both. The President has no influence over state cases, just as governors have none over federal cases.

The terms can be confusing, so we’ll try to clarify:

Commutation – This means a reduction in sentence. Usually a sentence commutation comes when a prisoner is granted clemency. In most cases, a reduction in sentence is all that a commutation does, it does not restore other rights such as voting. It also does not exempt the prisoner from terms of parole and it does not get rid of any fines or forfeitures, although there are rare exceptions to this rule.

Clemency – Means leniency given in the form of a reduced sentence or in some cases a chance at parole. It may or may not include a full pardon.

Pardon – A full pardon not only releases the prisoner, it restores their full rights, such as the right to vote; it would also eliminate any parole restrictions.


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