May 02, 2018

Capital Clemency Resource Initiative

Clemency is deeply rooted in our Anglo-American tradition of law, and is the historic remedy for preventing miscarriages of justice where judicial process has been exhausted.

Herrera v. Collins

506 U.S. 390, 411-12 (1993)

Latest News

Clemency Website Launched!

The Project is happy to announce launch of capitalclemency.org, the official website of the Capital Clemency Resource Initiative. The site contains resources about capital clemency for the public as well as a secured area for capital clemency practitioners. Visit the site to learn more!

Background

Clemency serves a vital role in our capital punishment system by acting as a “fail-safe” to prevent unjust executions. Prior to the execution of a death-sentenced prisoner, it allows a governor or board of pardons and paroles to conduct a full review of the case and grant a reprieve, pardon, or commutation, free from some of the procedural limitations that may favor expediency over justice.

Despite its longstanding roots and significance in the American death penalty process, clemency historically has received relatively little focus compared to other stages of a capital case. As a result, the training and resources available to actors in the clemency process lag far behind those provided for the investigation, trial or appeals.

This lack of resources necessarily affects the quality of representation that individuals facing execution receive, as clemency advocacy is often distinct from litigation strategy. The lack of resources and focus on clemency also detracts from decision makers’ ability to give informed and reasoned consideration to the complex legal and factual issues raised in clemency petitions. Decision makers often have little or no formal guidance about the complicated and diverse factors they can and should consider when evaluating a petition for clemency in a death penalty case. Furthermore, the attorneys who present those petitions do not have access to focused training materials that address the unique aspects of the clemency process.

Thus, there is a critical and unmet need for education and training of both lawyers representing capital prisoners and decision makers who review petitions for clemency to ensure that this key phase of a capital case is meaningful and fair.

A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws, which exempts the individual, on whom it is bestowed, from the punishment the law inflicts for a crime he has committed.

United States v. Wilson

32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 150 (1833)

Mission

The mission of the ABA Capital Clemency Resource Initiative is to address the troubling lack of resources and expertise available to practitioners and decision makers in the capital clemency process and—for the first time—to provide targeted, comprehensive, and current materials to guide stakeholders through this crucial last phase of the death penalty process.

To further this mission, the Initiative seeks to:

  • Develop effective educational resources (or “Toolkits”) for capital defenders and clemency decision makers, which include both universal “best practices” and recommendations tailored to individual state practice;
  • Design and host training programs for capital clemency counsel, responsive to the needs and concerns voiced by practitioners in the various states;
  • Collaborate with capital clemency decision makers to ascertain interest in and provide support for specially-focused training programs, as desired;
  • Educate the public and the legal profession more broadly on the importance of clemency in capital cases and the problems with its current use.

Contact Us

If you are interested in learning more about the Initiative, or if you are representing a client facing execution and would like to speak with us about our currently available materials regarding capital clemency, do not hesitate to contact us. To the extent that you have expertise and interest in this field, we encourage you to reach out to share your experiences and make recommendations as to where you believe help is most needed.

We look forward to working together with you to shape this incredibly important Initiative for death penalty practitioners and decision makers.

Laura Schaefer
Staff Attorney & Clemency Counsel
Death Penalty Representation Project
American Bar Association
1050 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 400
Washington D.C. 20036
Tel.: (202) 442-3452
Email: Laura.Schaefer@americanbar.org