The president's power to reduce sentences and grant pardons is used infrequently, and backlogs responding to clemency petitions are common, says a Justice Department inspector general report quoted by the New York Times. More than one in five of 95,000 clemency petitions have been granted since 1900, but that rate has dropped in recent years, with just 3 percent of clemency requests–177 of 5,806 cases–being granted.
The clemency-petition backlog rose 92 percent from 2005 to 2010, from 2,459 petitions to 4,714. Since the end of the 2010 fiscal year, the Obama administration reduced the backlog substantially by denying nearly 4,000 petitions while granting 17 pardons. The first nine of those were granted last December. “They are stellar at rejecting applications,” said P. S. Ruckman Jr., a political scientist at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Il. Focusing on processing times and averages “completely missed the point,” said Margaret Colgate Love, U.S. pardon attorney in the 1990s. The essential question, she said, is the quality of review. Love, who represents applicants for presidential pardons and sentence commutations, said “the pardon process is not serving the president” by giving the information he needs to make good decisions.