News

Actions

What is the difference between a pardon and a commutation?

Wayne County jail cell
Posted at 3:45 AM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 03:55:41-05

(WXYZ) — President Donald Trump commuted the sentence for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in his final hours of office overnight Tuesday.

Related:

The White House said in a statement that the commutation was "strongly supported by members of the Detroit community."

Related: Kwame Kilpatrick couldn't hold state or local office until 2033 under Michigan law

Kilpatrick had served about seven years of a 28-year sentence for racketeering and bribery.

His commutation does not mean his crime or conviction is wiped away, because he was not pardoned.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a commutation of a sentence reduces the sentence either totally or partially.

"It does not change the fact of conviction, imply innocence, or remove civil disabilities that apply to the convicted person as a result of the criminal conviction," the DOJ writes on its website.

On the other hand, a pardon expresses the president's forgiveness and "ordinarily is granted in recognition of the applicant’s acceptance of responsibility for the crime and established good conduct for a significant period of time after conviction or completion of sentence. It does not signify innocence."

Pardons also remove the restrictions a convicted person has, including on the right to vote, right to hold state or local office, or sit on a jury.

You can read the difference below.

"In the federal system, commutation of sentence and pardon are different forms of executive clemency, which is a broad term that applies to the President’s constitutional power to exercise leniency toward persons who have committed federal crimes.

A commutation of sentence reduces a sentence, either totally or partially, that is then being served, but it does not change the fact of conviction, imply innocence, or remove civil disabilities that apply to the convicted person as a result of the criminal conviction. A commutation may include remission (release) of the financial obligations that are imposed as part of a sentence, such as payment of a fine or restitution. A remission applies only to the part of the financial obligation that has not already been paid. A commutation of sentence has no effect on a person’s immigration status and will not prevent removal or deportation from the United States. To be eligible to apply for commutation of sentence, a person must have reported to prison to begin serving his sentence and may not be challenging his conviction in the courts.

A pardon is an expression of the President’s forgiveness and ordinarily is granted in recognition of the applicant’s acceptance of responsibility for the crime and established good conduct for a significant period of time after conviction or completion of sentence. It does not signify innocence. It does, however, remove civil disabilities – e.g., restrictions on the right to vote, hold state or local office, or sit on a jury – imposed because of the conviction for which pardon is sought, and should lessen the stigma arising from the conviction. It may also be helpful in obtaining licenses, bonding, or employment. Under some – but not all – circumstances, a pardon will eliminate the legal basis for removal or deportation from the United States. Pursuant to the Rules Governing Petitions for Executive Clemency, which are available on this website, a person is not eligible to apply for a presidential pardon until a minimum of five years has elapsed since his release from any form of confinement imposed upon him as part of a sentence for his most recent criminal conviction, whether or not that is the conviction for which he is seeking the pardon."