Last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul pardoned nine people and commuted the sentences of four others— a year after she last granted several New Yorkers clemency — and pledged to continue to do so “on an ongoing basis,” despite having not done so for a year. Hochul also pardoned multiple immigrants who have already been released from prison, but who could have faced deportation because of crimes they had committed years ago.
“Clemency is a powerful tool that can be exercised to advance the interests of justice and fairness, and to recognize efforts made by individuals to improve not only their own lives but the lives of those around them,” Hochul said in a written statement on Wednesday. “These grants of clemency serve not only to acknowledge the steps these individuals have taken to rehabilitate themselves, but to remind others that such change is possible and that nobody should be defined by their worst mistake.”
This should give some level of hope to the thousands of inmates and their families who have a legitimate chance of receiving clemency. Advocates have urged Hochul and past governors to use their clemency powers more often and for more people, as a tool to reduce the prison population and to give people second chances. They argue that it could incentivize incarcerated people to stay out of trouble and to participate in rehabilitative programming. They also cite research that people tend to commit crimes at much lower rates as they get older.
But such arguments have faced pushback as rising crime rates in recent years have stoked fear among many and prompted criticism from police and politicians who have blamed recent criminal justice reforms. Multiple bills that would have opened other avenues for early release failed in the state Legislature this year, as campaign season heated up. Hochul was also on the defensive in the lead-up to the election.
More than a month after Election Day, 450 people seeking pardons and 861 seeking sentence commutations were still waiting for a decision. Proponents of criminal justice reform celebrated Hochul’s decision to grant clemency to a small number of those applicants. But they also urged the governor not to stop at 13.
What is Clemency?
Clemency is the power of the Governor to pardon a person previously convicted of a crime or to commute a prison sentence to a lesser term than was initially imposed. Clemency embodies a basic recognition that all human beings are fallible and capable of change. Redemption is always possible. Executive clemency is a power vested in Governor Hochul by the New York State Constitution to provide relief to those convicted of a criminal offense. It can take the form of commutations and pardons.
What is the difference between a Commutation and a Pardon?
A commutation is the power to reduce the length of a sentence of a person currently in prison.
A pardon typically is granted to individuals who have already been released. It absolves the individual of legal guilt from a criminal conviction or restores rights lost as a result of a conviction.
Hochul has made a few changes to the state’s clemency process, including streamlining the application website and sending status updates to applicants twice a year. The governor has also hired two full-time employees and assembled an advisory panel to read through applications and make recommendations.
My family member is incarcerated in New York or wants a pardon, how can they apply?
The eligibility information and the process to apply is available on the New York State website at http://www.ny.gov/services/apply-clemency.
The criminal defense attorneys at Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins have been involved in representing individuals who have had their clemency requests granted. If you or a loved one believes they are eligible, call us today.
At Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins, our criminal defense lawyers have a wealth of experience in both Federal and State Court, and have defended some of the most high profile cases in the country. Contact us today if you or someone you know is facing criminal charges of any kind.
Michael Jaccarino, and the criminal defense attorneys at Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins, PC, have decades of experience.
For more information or more fact-specific discussions, call our office and ask to speak with attorney Michael Jaccarino.