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

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


Apr 05, 2024

Missouri’s First Execution of 2024 Scheduled for Man Whose Trial Lawyers Had Conflicts of Interest and Who Has Unprecedented Support for Clemency

Brian Dorsey (pic­tured), a Missouri death row pris­on­er sched­uled for exe­cu­tion on April 9, 2024, has gar­nered wide­spread sup­port for clemen­cy from more than 70 cor­rec­tions offi­cials, a for­mer Missouri Supreme Court Judge, mul­ti­ple jurors, Democratic and Republican state leg­is­la­tors, faith lead­ers, and his fam­i­ly mem­bers — sev­er­al of whom are relat­ed to the vic­tims, Sarah and Ben Bonnie — all of whom have called on Governor Mike Parson to com­mute his sen­tence to life in prison with­out the…

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Mar 20, 2024

Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole Denies Clemency for Willie Pye, Scheduled for March 20 Execution, Amid Pending Secrecy and Equal Protection Lawsuits

On March 19, 2024, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole denied clemen­cy for Willie Pye (pic­tured), who is sched­uled to be exe­cut­ed on March 20, despite argu­ments that he has an intel­lec­tu­al dis­abil­i­ty and is there­fore inel­i­gi­ble for exe­cu­tion, per Georgia state law and U.S. Supreme Court prece­dent. Convicted in 1996 for the 1993 mur­der of his ex-girl­friend, Alicia Yarbrough, Mr. Pye has spent the last 28 years on Georgia’s death row. Mr. Pye’s case has also gen­er­at­ed pub­lic con­cern due to…

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Feb 13, 2024

Idaho Supreme Court Denies Stay of Execution to State’s Longest Serving Death Row Prisoner Ahead of Feb 28 Execution Date

On February 9, 2024, the Idaho Supreme Court unan­i­mous­ly dis­missed two state appeals for 73-year-old Thomas Creech, there­by deny­ing his requests for a stay of exe­cu­tion. Mr. Creech, who has been on death row for more than 40 years, has also request­ed a new clemen­cy hear­ing. He is sched­uled to be exe­cut­ed by lethal injec­tion on February 28, which would be Idaho’s first exe­cu­tion since…

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Jan 25, 2024

Clemency Request for 73-Year-Old Death Row Prisoner in Idaho Has Support of Trial Judge and Prosecutor, Defense Presents Evidence of a Changed Man

On January 19, 2024, the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole held a clemen­cy hear­ing for Thomas Creech, who has been on death row for near­ly 44 years. The Commission will now decide whether to rec­om­mend to Governor Brad Little that Mr. Creech’s death sen­tence be com­mut­ed to life in prison with­out parole. By law, the gov­er­nor is not required to fol­low the Commission’s rec­om­men­da­tion. Mr. Creech faced a sched­uled exe­cu­tion date in November 2023, but the Commission stayed the exe­cu­tion so…

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Dec 11, 2023

Activists Call on North Carolina Governor to Commute Death Row As an Act of Racial Justice”

In North Carolina, a coali­tion of activists is call­ing on Governor Roy Cooper to com­mute the death sen­tences of 136 peo­ple as an act of racial jus­tice” before he leaves office in 2024. Edward Ed” Chapman, a death row exoneree who spent 14 years on death row, along with oth­er advo­cates with the North Carolina Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, are urg­ing Gov. Cooper to grant clemen­cy to all death-sen­tenced indi­vid­u­als in North Carolina because of the injus­tices of the death…

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