Only A Few Get Pardons, But A “Wave Of Mercy” May Change That


Barry Beach in Montana, Gabrielle Cecil in Louisville, and actor Robert Downey Jr. in California were among those who won the holiday-time clemency lottery and, in the past two months, had their sentences commuted or pardoned, reports Stateline. They're the lucky ones. Only 15 states, including Arkansas and California, grant frequent and regular pardons, to more than 30 percent of applicants, according to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, a nonprofit that promotes discussion of the lasting effects of conviction. The largest group — 21 states, including Kansas, Kentucky and Tennessee — granted few or no pardons in the past 20 years. Your odds of getting a pardon or having your sentence commuted to, for example, time served, depend on what state you're convicted in and, most importantly, on who the governor is.

Nine states have a regular pardon process but give clemency to just a small percentage of those who ask for it, and five states — Louisiana, Maine, New Mexico, Ohio and Wisconsin — grant pardons only infrequently, depending on the governor. Several governors and state legislatures have moved to make the clemency process easier and pardons more frequent, reflecting a growing consensus that harsh mandatory minimum sentences have left too many Americans behind bars. “I do see a wave of mercy rolling across the country,” said political scientist P.S. Ruckman Jr., who runs a clemency blog, “Over the last 10 years, governors erred on the side of caution, and did nothing” to grant clemency or pardons, Ruckman said. “Increasingly that mindset is changing.”

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