Clemency Petitions in Washington

What is a clemency petition?

A clemency petition is a request for the Governor to commute/shorten your sentence or to pardon you for your crime. The petition is first considered by the Clemency and Pardons Board. The Board’s job is to make recommendations to the Governor about whether clemency petitions should be granted.

Who can petition for clemency?

Anyone who has been convicted of a crime, whether currently incarcerated or not, can petition for clemency.

What are the grounds or reasons a person might be granted clemency?

A person seeking clemency must demonstrate that there are “extraordinary circumstances” in his or her particular case to warrant clemency. “Extraordinary circumstances” might be things like exemplary good works, remarkable personal changes, support from the victims of your crimes, or medical situations. For a pardon, extraordinary circumstance may be a long period of demonstrated stellar citizenship coupled with a need to remove a criminal conviction from your record when seeking certain kinds of employment, seeking to enroll in the military or training programs, or attempting to avoid deportation. Factors that the Board considers include the seriousness of the offense, your demonstrated remorse and acceptance of responsibility, your prior criminal history, and how long ago your offense was committed.

What kinds of things are not sufficient grounds for clemency to be granted?

Having a good prison record is generally not sufficient on its own. Likewise, the fact that you have taken some steps towards self-improvement such as taking classes in prison or obtaining a GED would not be sufficient on its own. These kinds of things are good starting points but would not by themselves rise to the level of “extraordinary circumstances.”

Are there deadlines or other time restraints for filing a petition?

There are no particular deadlines for filing a clemency petition, but you cannot file until your criminal proceedings are final. This generally means that your appeals are fully completed. There is no outer time limit; you may file your petition years or even decades after your conviction.
There is an important timing framework to be aware of, however. The Board typically holds hearings only four times per year, usually in September, December, March and June. In order to be considered for those hearing dates, a petitioner must submit all materials by the Board’s stated agenda date, which is usually six months in advance of the hearing date. In other words, if you would like to be considered for a March hearing, you would need to submit your petition by the preceding September.

How do I begin the clemency process?

The process begins with the filing of various forms and supporting materials with the Clemency and Pardons Board. Copies of certain documents are required, including your judgment and sentence and your criminal history. All forms and requirements can be found online at http://www.governor.wa.gov/boards-commissions/clemency-pardon-board/submit-petition.

Additional materials to submit might include letters from family, friends, and professionals, psychological assessments, statements from victims, and detailed plans for your potential release outlining how you will be employed, where you will live, and what kind of support you will have.

Two members of the Board conduct the initial review of all written petitions to determine whether the petition should be granted a full hearing in front of the entire Board.  If one or both of these two members determine that a hearing is warranted, then the matter will be scheduled for one of the quarterly hearing dates.  If you are not given a hearing, you will be notified but you will not be given any reasons for the denial.

Who else gets notified that I have filed a clemency petition?

The prosecuting attorney’s office is notified. Their office will in turn notify victims or victims’ family members. The prosecuting attorney and the victims are welcome but not required to respond in writing and/or attend any hearing. The prosecuting attorney will also notify the law enforcement agency associated with your offense and that agency may or may not respond.

DOC will also be notified and asked to provide a copy of your criminal history and your legal face sheet. If you are granted a hearing, DOC will also be asked to provide its own case analysis.

Finally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will receive notice in cases where there are issues of citizenship status.

What happens at the Clemency Board hearing?

At the hearing, you and your attorney will be allowed to make statements. If you are currently incarcerated, arrangements can be made for you to appear at the hearing over the phone. Your supporters will also be allowed to make statements. The time for hearings is very limited and you may not be able to have all of those who wish to make a statement do so. There are usually several other hearing scheduled on the same day. The Board has the discretion to limit the number of statements made or the length of those statements.

The Board will typically vote on whether to recommend to the governor that your request be granted or denied immediately after the hearing is concluded and will do so on the record, with each member giving his or her reasoning. The Board may recommend that specific conditions be attached to any petition granted.

It is important to note that hearings are open to the public, that a court reporter will be there to record and transcribe the hearing, and that most hearings are televised on TVW. All written materials as well as everything that happens at the hearing are matters of public record.

What happens after the Clemency Board hearing?

After the hearing, the Board will forward its recommendation along with all written materials to the Governor. The Governor’s staff will then review your petition and make a decision as to whether to follow or reject the recommendation. There is no timeline for this process. A final decision could take months or possibly even years.

Can I appeal if the Board does not recommend that I be granted clemency?

No. There are no appeals of any kind.

Can I file another petition if I lose?

Yes, but the general rule is that the Board will only consider subsequent petitions if three years have passed since your previous petition.

Can I file without a lawyer?

Yes, petitioners can and do file without lawyers involved at all.  Other petitioners choose to consult with a lawyer who is well-versed in the process of clemency, in order to get guidance, advice, and tips without going to the expense of hiring a lawyer to complete the petition or appear at any hearing.

How often are petitions granted?

Petitions are rarely granted, but the assistance of an attorney such as Maureen can prove invaluable as you make your way through the petition process.

Can I make an appointment with Maureen for an informational consultation?

Yes, Maureen offers appointments designed to prepare you for filing a petition and to answer your specific questions about the process.  These appointments are 2 hours long and cost $500.  During this time, Maureen will share with you her knowledge of the clemency process, provide you with a clear plan for taking the next steps, walk you through the documentation you will need, steer you away from common pitfalls, and briefly assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of your case. Email maureen@davidzuckermanlaw.com or call (206) 623-1595 to set up an appointment. Maureen can also make arrangements to consult with incarcerated petitioners in person or over the phone.

Where can I get more information?

Go to the website of the Washington State Clemency and Pardons Board.

Watch Maureen’s recent Clemency and Pardons Board hearing. The Board ruled 4-0 in favor of Maureen’s client.

Watch Maureen’s recent Clemency and Pardons Board hearing. The Board, again, ruled 4-0 in favor of Maureen’s client.

Read Maureen’s article on clemency in Defense Magazine.