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Understanding Clemency

Clemency is the extension of mercy and leniency to a convicted individual. State governors and the president have the power to grant clemency and usually choose to do so when an individual has demonstrated rehabilitation or in the presence of special circumstances. When granted clemency, an individual is not entirely excused from their crime and their conviction is not dismissed. Instead, the penalty for their offense is reduced or delayed in some way. 


In Tennessee, the governor’s issuance of clemency can take three different forms. First, a pardon may be issued, which removes any remaining penalties related to the crime and entirely excuses the convicted offender of the crime. Typically, pardons are granted after a sentence has been completed. A commutation is the reduction in a sentence being served by the offender. When an individual’s sentence is commuted, their prison term is usually shortened in recognition of good behavior. Finally, an exoneration recognizes that a person is innocent and was wrongfully convicted.


In 2011, after thoroughly reviewing their petitions, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen granted clemency to both Don and Shawnda by commuting their sentences which made them eligible for release in 2012. In issuing clemency, Governor Breseden determined that early release would not detract from the gravity of their offenses and that sufficient time had been served.

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