Justice report shows backlog in clemency petitions

The number of federally convicted felons asking for pardons or commuted sentences has recently increased.

Story highlights

  • Number of petitions received more than doubled from 2005-10
  • Backlog jumped 92% in that time period, Justice Department report says
  • No evidence found that Bush, Obama were more likely to grant petitions
  • Pardons, commutations do not have impact on convictions themselves
The number of federally convicted felons seeking pardons or commuted sentences has risen sharply in recent years, causing a growing backlog in the processing of the applications, according to a Justice report released Tuesday.
The report by the Justice Department inspector general says the backlog jumped by 92% from 2005 to 2010. During that period, the number of petitions received more than doubled, accounting for much of the backlog increase. It has gone down slightly in 2011.
However, the report says there's no evidence that chances of favorable presidential action by either the Bush or Obama White House improved. From 2005 to 2010, only 177 petitions -- 3% of nearly 6,000 clemency petitions received -- were granted.
The Constitution gives sole authority to grant clemency to the president. Although the chief executive makes the final decision, most of the work falls to the Justice Department's Office of Pardon Attorney, which first receives the applications.
Presidential pardons restore certain rights lost as a result of the pardoned offense but do not erase the record of conviction. Presidential commutations of sentences reduce the sentences being served but do not have any impact upon the convictions themselves.
The inspector general report said the procedures used by the pardon attorney and his staff are appropriate. The recommendation for granting or denying a petition is sent to the deputy attorney general, who rarely overrules the pardon attorney, the report says. It is then forwarded to the White House for a final approval.
The report does not discuss the crimes involved in the petitions. The inspector general was interested in the procedures used to conduct investigations of the petitioners and how quickly they are processed.
U.S. clemency records date to 1900. Since then, 95,000 petitions have been received. Twenty-two percent were granted. As time has passed, the number of pardons and commutations has continued to decline.