A commutation reduces or eliminates a sentence it does not change the fact of conviction and it is not an exoneration in the sense that it is equivalent to a declaration of innocence. It leaves the conviction in place as well as the attendant civil liabilities.
A pardon is a forgiveness of the conviction and is granted when the president is satisfied that the person has accepted responsibility for the crime and has lived a law-abiding lifestyle for a significant period of time. Like a commutation, it does not equal innocence but it is a more significant form of clemency because it can eliminate some of the civil liabilities attendant to a conviction (restrictions on voting rights, sitting on a jury; obtaining certain licensing and the right to bear arms for example). It does not erase the conviction in the formal sense in that the individual’s criminal history will reflect the conviction and the pardon.
No. A presidential pardon is only for convictions for federal offenses, not state offenses. In Connecticut, there is a Board of Pardons and Parole to which applications for a pardon can be made. It involves submitting a fairly long application with detailed essays and letters of recommendation. The board can grant a provisional pardon or a full expungement depending on the circumstances. The attorneys at Knight and Cerritelli, LLC represent clients with criminal convictions seeking pardons in the State of Connecticut.
So far, President Obama has granted 944 commutations including 324 for prisoners serving life sentences. But the criminal defense and personal injury attorneys at Knight & Cerritelli, LLC would also note that he has also denied a vast majority of the applications.
There is a belief now that some of the mandatory sentencing laws that took effect in the wake of the crack epidemic in the 80’s and early 90’s were too severe. The administration and others are of the mindset that the “war on drugs” has decimated communities and has led to an explosion in the United States’ prison population- which is the largest in the world- and is incredibly expensive to maintain. There have been bi-partisan efforts for criminal reform in Congress to address the long mandatory minimum sentences and while some penalties have been somewhat reduced major reform has not occurred.
Many of these applications were prepared by the Clemency Project 2014 which is a volunteer group of about 4000 lawyers who assisted in this effort pro bono over the last 2 years.
But the criminal defense and personal injury attorneys at Knight & Cerritelli, LLC have recognized that the president considers factors such as the severity of the sentence; disparity in sentencing; critical illness; old age etc. Also, the seriousness of the crimes is taken into account as well as the applicant’s overall criminal record; the length of time the individual has already served and the applicant’s behavior in prison.