Clemency is a power given to the governor by the Kentucky Constitution. Clemency is an act of mercy that only the governor can exercise. The governor forgives a criminal conviction or lessens a sentence that was imposed by a court. 

The source of clemency power is Section 77 of the Kentucky Constitution. That document states that the governor “shall have power to remit fines and forfeitures, commute sentences, grant reprieves and pardons.”

Is Pardon the Same Thing as Clemency?

In Lexington, the terms clemency and pardon are not interchangeable and actually refer to different things. 

Clemency is an umbrella term that includes three different powers of the governor:

  • Pardons
  • Commutations 
  • Reprieves

A pardon is specific and only refers to one power — the power to forgive a conviction and exempt you from punishment completely. A pardon formally relieves you of guilt. 

Pardons are most often granted in high profile cases with public support. A governor may also issue blanket pardons for everyone convicted of a specific offense if the administration disagrees with the policy behind the law. 

A commutation is also a very powerful type of clemency. Commutation is when the governor lessens the sentence imposed by a court. For instance, a commutation could relieve someone of the death penalty and impose a life sentence instead. Commutation could also be used to shave years off of a prison sentence. 

Clemency is a discretionary power that the governor has wide latitude in using. Some factors governors may consider to grant commutation include:

  • Disparate treatment of this defendant in imposing a sentence
  • Reform of the convicted party
  • Good behavior
  • Old age or illness

A reprieve is the temporary delaying of a sentence after a conviction. Reprieves are used to delay a death sentence or delay the start of a prison sentence. This could be used for a variety of reasons, such as having a sick family member, newly discovered evidence, or a pending appeal. Unlike pardons and commutations, which are permanent, a reprieve is only temporary.

What is the Process to Get Clemency?

Obtaining any form of clemency is usually a lengthy process. There are three steps to seeking clemency:

  1. Filling out the clemency application with the help of an attorney
  2. Submitting the clemency application and supporting documents
  3. The Governor and his office review the application and perform an investigation

The application package for a pardon or commutation requires detailed information, including:

  • Education history
  • Work history
  • Criminal history
  • A letter about why you deserve clemency
  • At least three letters of recommendation

The governor and their staff will use your information to determine if you will be granted clemency. They also will perform a thorough background investigation to verify the information you have provided and find out more about your character. It is critical to be truthful, as any discrepancies will harm your chances of clemency.

If you are granted a pardon or commutation in Lexington, the governor’s office will contact you. If they decide not to grant you clemency, you will likely not hear anything. 

Do You Need a Lawyer to Get Clemency?

You do not need a lawyer to apply for clemency, but we highly recommend hiring a lawyer to help you through the process. Not using a lawyer could result in incorrect or incomplete applications. These applications, in turn, could harm your chances of obtaining clemency.

Do You Need Expungement if You Get Clemency?

If you obtain clemency, you should take steps to apply for expungement. In Kentucky, this involves applying for a certificate of eligibility and filing that certificate with the court. Under Kentucky law, those who the governor pardons are eligible to apply for expungement. 

Should I Apply for Clemency if I Already Finished My Sentence?

Yes! Even if you already finished serving a sentence in Lexington, you can still benefit from clemency. A pardon can be used to restore your civil rights by eliminating a conviction from your record. 

There is also a separate process by which you can apply to the governor for a restoration of civil rights, though eligibility is limited. A restoration of civil rights does not impact your conviction status like a pardon does. 

A pardon can restore rights you lost upon conviction, such as:

  • The right to vote
  • The right to own a firearm
  • Eligibility for certain professional licenses

There are many other collateral consequences of a felony conviction, and a pardon can help restore all your civil rights. You should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney at Suhre & Associates regarding your rights and their restoration.