Fast Facts: President's Power to Commute a Sentence

-Under the Constitution, the President has the authority to commute sentences for federal criminal convictions, which are those obtained in the United States District Courts.

-The President's clemency power extends to convictions obtained in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

-The President cannot commute a state criminal sentence.

-The President's clemency power includes the authority to commute, or reduce, a sentence imposed upon conviction of a federal offense, including the authority to remit, or reduce, the amount of a fine or restitution order that has not already been paid.

-This form of clemency is different from a pardon after completion of sentence.

-Under the current regulations governing petitions for executive clemency, a person may not apply for a full pardon until at least five years after his or her release from incarceration.

-Accordingly, the commutation form should be used only for the purpose of seeking a reduction of sentence.

-Requests for commutation of a prison sentence generally are not accepted unless and until a person has begun serving that sentence.

-In addition, commutation requests are generally not accepted from a person who is currently challenging his or her conviction or sentence through appeal or other court proceeding.

-The power to commute a sentence for a federal offense is vested in the President alone.

-It is an extraordinary remedy that is very rarely granted.

-No hearing is held on the commutation application by either the Department of Justice or the White House.

-As a matter of well-established policy, the specific reasons for the President's decision to grant or deny a petition are generally not disclosed by either the White House or the Department of Justice. I

-In addition, documents reflecting deliberative communications pertaining to presidential decision-making, such as the Department's recommendation to the President in a clemency matter, are confidential and not available under the Freedom of Information Act.

-If your petition is denied, you may reapply one year after the date of denial.

Source: U.S. Dept of Justice, Commutation Instructions