The Clemency Surge What the ground-breaking amount pardons in January mean along with other clemency issues being reviewed


Clemency- an act of mercy

Commutation- changing a sentence to a smaller one after it's been given

Convict-the action or title of someone to be charged of a crime by court

Exoneration- getting rid of blame completely

Incarcerate- to be imprisoned

Pardon-- to forgive someone for something they did

What is the process of clemency?

A person can receive clemency through an application for either a pardon or commutation at the federal or states level. According to the organization FAMM, or Families Against Mandatory Minimums, in federal cases it can take anywhere between 2 to 7 years before a person is told whether a commutation request has been granted or denied (Rhodan). This is quite difficult because of the fact that they also have to be in prison for five years before they can even request a commutation. Not only that but the likelihood of receiving a pardon is very low. Mandy Martinsen, a recent recipient of a presidential pardon, stated,”People that are in prison right now that are hoping for their miracle the clock is ticking because right now President Obama is the miracle maker” (NBC News). The process of clemency is long and has multiple levels that are granted to people with similar cases.

What are common traits of the people who receive clemency?

Most of the people who are granted clemency are individuals who have been incarcerated for non-violent drug related crimes who have been over-sentenced. According to the article “After Life” by Time, the average prison sentence for federal drug offenders is 11 years and 4 months (Rhodan).Ever since the fair sentencing act was signed in 2010, the average time has been cut in half while the inmates still had to serve the time that they were given, leaving the perfect reason for someone to be pardoned. Many of the ex-convicts who were pardoned have been living completely different lives now though and are campaigning to help others do the same.. Monica White, who was a drug dealer when she entered prison in 1998 with a life sentence and has recently been pardoned, stated in an interview that “...I want to tell Donald Trump not to think that everybody who commits a crime is a bad person. Everyone deserves a second chance at life, just like when he made bad decisions in his companies and in his life, he did what he had to do to bounce back” (Reinhard). These people, other than campaigning for clemency, have taken up work again and are reconnecting with family members that they haven’t talked with for years. The recent recipients of Obama’s pardons are convicted of low level crimes with extremely long sentences. While clemency is seen as the only source of correction in the Justice System, the views of the current and former president may shift its place in the System.

How are Obama's and Trump's views on clemency affecting pardoning right now?

Former President Obama has stressed the issue of helping nonviolent convicted people have a normal life while Trump has appeared to be anti-clemency which is causing controversy on how long convicts will still be able to be pardoned. According to The U.S. Newswire Obama granted 1,746 communications which is more than the past 13 presidents combined. With this large amount of commutations, Obama has given hope to many of the convicts who believed that they would be in jail for the rest of their lives. Many convicts and and their families are worrying about Trump’s negative position on clemency though and urged Obama to pardon as many people as possibly. Margaret Colgate Love, who was a pardon attorney in the 1990’s, mentioned, “There are many hundreds of people still in prison whose cases are indistinguishable from ones that have already been commuted by the president. It is important for the president to reach as many of them as he can in these last weeks, since we can’t count on the program continuing after he leaves office” (Reinhard). Because of Trump’s anti-clemency views, Obama started to quickly release hundreds of nonviolent convicts which has created multiple problems in the Justice System.

What are some controversies on the subject of clemency?

One of the largest controversies other than Trump’s and Obama's opposing views is the use of pardoning attorneys and their lack of drive to exonerate perfect candidates for clemency. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, last year there was a record 149 convicted defendants exonerated in 29 states. The need for exoneration is extreme as it is the only remedy for wrongful convictions, but because the pardon attorneys are reviewing the applications quite sluggishly activists groups are starting to fight back. Lamont Banks, the executive director of A Just Cause, recently stated "Hostile to clemency is hostile to the Constitution. Given the incessant delays in prosecuting clemency applications and hostility towards the Constitution by federal prosecutors, we are asking President Obama to move the clemency process to the White House or to an independent commission”. The continued use of pardon attorneys in recommending cases for clemency have remained controversial, as is evidenced by Chelsea Manning’s case.

Why was Chelsea Manning pardoned while Edward Snowden wasn’t?

Chelsea Manning’s case had multiple large differences than Edward’s, the main ones being that she stayed and was sentenced in the U.S. and that she was a transgender woman in an all male prison. The Bureau of Judicial Statistics reported that there were over 3,200 transgender people in US prisons nationwide in 2011-12 and that 39.9% reported sexual assault or abuse. Chelsea Manning’s safety was no doubt at high risk in an all male federal prison and might have been a key fact in her suicide attempt. Other than the large issue of safety, there was also the fact that she was actually convicted. Josh Earnest,White House spokesman, commented,“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing. Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.” Chelsea Manning was a much better choice to be recipient of a pardon than Snowden because she followed the law, which showed her remorse for her actions, and has genuinely struggling during her 35 year sentence.

Works Cited

DOJ prosecutors are failing obama, scalia & constitution, says advocacy group, A just cause. (2016, Feb 23). U.S.Newswire Retrieved from

NBC News. “Inmates Hold Onto Hope For A Last-Minute Shot At Clemency From Barack Obama”. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube,16 December 2016. Web. 26 January 2017.

Rhodan, Maya. "After Life." Time 188.19 (2016): 38-43. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Feb. 2017.

The Editorial Board. "Mr. Obama, Pick Up Your Pardon Pen." New York Times. N.p., 16 Jan. 2017. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.

Newkirk 2, Vann. “President Obama’s Last Clemency Push”.The Atlantic. . Accessed 31 January 2017.

Reinhard, Beth. "Barack Obama Weighs Final Requests for Clemency." The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 17 Dec. 2016. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.


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