Facts & Research


Clemency is the process by which a governor, president, or administrative board may reduce a defendant’s sentence or grant a pardon. Clemencies have been granted in death-penalty cases for a variety of reasons.


All states and the federal government have a process for lowering the sentence or pardoning those facing criminal charges. Clemency is an especially important consideration for those on death row. Even after all appeals in the courts have been exhausted, there is still a possibility that the inmate’s life will be spared.

Clemencies in capital cases, however, have been rare. Aside from the occasional blanket grants of clemency by governors concerned about the overall fairness of the death penalty, less than two have been granted on average per year since 1976. In the same period, more than 1,500 cases have proceeded to execution. Among the reasons given for the granting of clemency in capital cases are: mental illness of the defendant, a co-defendant who was given a lesser sentence, inadequate legal representation, and evidence that the defendant may have been wrongly convicted.

At Issue

Because the power of clemency is vested in the executive branch of the government, courts have been reluctant to impose standards on this procedure. Governors are elected; thus the process may be highly political. For these reasons, clemencies in death penalty cases are difficult to predict and immune from judicial review.

Grants of Clemency by State

Clemencies Granted by State since 1976Number of Clemencies
New Jersey8
New Mexico5
North Carolina5
U.S. Military1

What DPIC Offers

DPIC keeps track of all clemencies granted in capital cases in the modern era by state and year, including the reasons given for the action. It also has compiled material on historical uses of clemency. Finally, DPIC describes the differences among state laws regarding who makes the clemency decision and any constraints on the process.

Although a reprieve is technically a type of clemency, this page discusses only executive acts with permanent effects on a defendant’s conviction or sentence. Temporary holds on executions are tracked on our Outcome of Death Warrants pages.

News & Developments


Jul 03, 2023

Louisiana Mass Clemency Efforts Highlight Similarities to Illinois Mass Clemency 20 Years Ago

As Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (pic­tured) con­sid­ers the clemen­cy peti­tions filed by 51 of the state’s 57 death row pris­on­ers, advo­cates and jour­nal­ists have not­ed the sim­i­lar­i­ties between Louisiana’s death penal­ty sys­tem and that of Illinois, where Governor George Ryan com­mut­ed the sen­tences of all 167 peo­ple on death row in 2003. Both states have had high num­bers of death row exon­er­a­tions stem­ming from sys­temic mis­con­duct, death sen­tences in both states are con­cen­trat­ed in a small num­ber of juris­dic­tions, and both gov­er­nors have expressed seri­ous per­son­al con­cerns about the…

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Nov 21, 2023

Following Series of Denials, Louisiana Board to Hold Administrative Hearings on Clemency for at Least Two Additional Death Row Prisoners

The Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole will con­sid­er at least two addi­tion­al appli­ca­tions for clemen­cy on November 27, fol­low­ing a tumul­tuous year in which near­ly all Louisiana death row pris­on­ers sought clemen­cy in response to out­go­ing Governor John Bel Edwards voic­ing his per­son­al oppo­si­tion to the death penal­ty. Under the Louisiana Constitution, Governor Edwards can­not grant clemen­cy with­out a rec­om­men­da­tion from the Board; he asked the Board to set hear­ings so that he could ful­fill his author­i­ty and duty to con­sid­er these appli­ca­tions.” However, amidst oppo­si­tion from…

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Oct 19, 2023

Idaho Parole Board Grants Clemency Hearing for 73-Year-Old Death Row Prisoner Facing Execution

On October 18, 2023, the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole delayed the sched­uled exe­cu­tion for Thomas Creech in order to pro­vide him with a full clemen­cy hear­ing. A date for the hear­ing has not yet been sched­uled. An Ada County, Idaho judge pre­vi­ous­ly issued a death war­rant for Mr. Creech, who has been on death row for near­ly 44 years, set­ting his exe­cu­tion for November 8, 2023. The Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) announced that they have secured the appro­pri­ate drugs to car­ry out a lethal injec­tion exe­cu­tion, despite…

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Oct 17, 2023

Victim’s Sister, Faith Leaders, and Others Plead for Clemency for Will Speer, Faith Based Coordinator on Texas’ Death Row

On Friday, October 13, the sole sur­viv­ing fam­i­ly mem­ber of mur­der vic­tim Gary L. Dickerson joined dozens of faith lead­ers and oth­ers in ask­ing the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for clemen­cy for Will Speer. Mr. Speer is set to be exe­cut­ed on October 26, 2023. After a child­hood of hor­rif­ic abuse, a life sen­tence by age 18, and a judg­ment of death by age 23, Mr. Speer devot­ed him­self to the study of Christianity and has become a promi­nent prison min­is­ter. In my heart, I feel that he…

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Oct 16, 2023

Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole Denies Clemency Hearings for Five Death-Sentenced Prisoners

On October 13, 2023, after a brief admin­is­tra­tive hear­ing, the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole denied clemen­cy hear­ings for five of the 56 death-sen­tenced pris­on­ers seek­ing clemen­cy before Governor John Bel Edwards leaves office in January 2024. The four-mem­ber pan­el split its vote on four of the five appli­ca­tions, with a major­i­ty deny­ing the fifth appli­ca­tion on the grounds that Winthrop Eaton is unlike­ly to be exe­cut­ed because he is men­tal­ly incom­pe­tent. Clifford Deruise, Daniel Irish, Emmett Taylor, and Antoinette Frank were denied clemen­cy hear­ings despite having…

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Sep 14, 2023

Louisiana District Attorney Asks Court to Halt Death Row Clemency Hearings for Three Prisoners

On September 12, 2023, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore filed a request for injunc­tive relief, ask­ing the 19th Judicial District Court to vacate hear­ings sched­uled for three East Baton Rouge Parish pris­on­ers who have request­ed clemen­cy. In June 2023, 51 death-sen­tenced indi­vid­u­als filed clemen­cy appli­ca­tions with the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole, request­ing a com­mu­ta­tion of their death sen­tences to life with­out parole. Five addi­tion­al appli­ca­tions from death row pris­on­ers have since been sub­mit­ted to the Board. DA Moore’s motion comes in response to the…

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State logo for Louisiana with White Pelican, "Union, Justice, Confidence"


Aug 18, 2023

Two Members of Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board Resign, Citing Heavy Workloads and Challenges of Capital Case Reviews

Two of the five mem­bers of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, which con­sid­ers the clemen­cy peti­tions of the state’s death row pris­on­ers, have resigned. Board chair­man Richard Smothermon and mem­ber Cathy Stocker both announced that the board’s August 2023 meet­ing would be their last. Governor Kevin Stitt has appoint­ed for­mer District Attorney Kevin Buchanan to replace Ms. Stocker, while Mr. Smothermon’s replace­ment will be select­ed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. 

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Aug 10, 2023

Governor John Bel Edwards Directs Louisiana Board to Consider Death Row Clemency Petitions and Set Hearings

On August 9th, with the use of his exec­u­tive author­i­ty, Governor John Bel Edwards (pic­tured) asked the Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole to return the 56 clemen­cy appli­ca­tions filed by death-sen­tenced pris­on­ers in Louisiana to its dock­et for con­sid­er­a­tion and set them for hear­ings. The Board of Pardons will now have until January 2024, when Gov. Edwards offi­cial­ly leaves office, to decide whether to rec­om­mend clemen­cy for near­ly all of the state’s death row pris­on­ers. Earlier this year, Gov. Edwards expressed his oppo­si­tion to cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, stat­ing that…

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Jul 28, 2023

Louisiana Pardon Board Declines to Consider 56 Death Row Clemency Petitions Without Merits Review

On July 24, 2023, the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Parole set aside all 56 clemen­cy appli­ca­tions filed by near­ly every death-sen­tenced pris­on­er in Louisiana last month with­out review­ing the mer­its of a sin­gle one of them. The pris­on­ers asked for their sen­tences to be com­mut­ed to life with­out parole, but the Board made its deci­sion to return the appli­ca­tions based on an advi­so­ry, non­bind­ing opin­ion from the Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. Attorneys for death row pris­on­ers have respond­ed by argu­ing that the Attorney General’s office mis­in­ter­pret­ed the language…

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Jun 14, 2023

Mass Filing for Clemency Highlights Longstanding Systemic Problems with Louisiana’s Broken” Death Penalty

On June 13, 2023, 51 of the 57 peo­ple on Louisiana’s death row filed clemen­cy appli­ca­tions with the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole, ask­ing Governor John Bel Edwards to com­mute their sen­tences to life with­out parole. The clemen­cy appli­ca­tions describe flaws in the indi­vid­ual cas­es – includ­ing men­tal ill­ness and intel­lec­tu­al dis­abil­i­ty, inno­cence claims, and offi­cial mis­con­duct – but cumu­la­tive­ly por­tray a death penal­ty sys­tem marked by sig­nif­i­cant sys­temic prob­lems. The board­’s mem­bers, all of whom are appoint­ed by Edwards, will weigh the appli­ca­tions indi­vid­u­al­ly and then send their…

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