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Troy Davis Clemency Denied: What is Clemency?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on September 20, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Convicted of murdering an off-duty police officer in 1989, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to grant Troy Davis clemency on Tuesday. The decision brings an end to two decades of appeals and at least four other scheduled execution dates.

The controversy surrounding Davis' pending execution has brought forth a number of questions about the clemency process and its purposes.

Used to describe a variety of situations, exactly what is clemency?

Whether granted by a Governor or state advisory board, clemency is about fairness. It is granted when a punishment is deemed too harsh, or the justice system has made a mistake.

Generally, clemency in the United States exists in three forms: pardon, reprieve, and commutation.

A pardon forgives a crime, usually after a defendant serves his full sentence, and will diminish the impact of the conviction on post-prison rights. Sometimes it may also wipe a conviction from the record.

A reprieve suspends a sentence in order to give a defendant more time to challenge his punishment. Such clemency generally postpones executions.

If granted, commutation, which was the basis for Troy Davis' clemency request, lessens a sentence so that it is more in line with notions of fairness.

Commutation may shorten a prison term, or it may downgrade the death penalty to life in prison.

Because Troy Davis' clemency was denied, his execution remains scheduled for Wednesday evening. Barring a last minute postponement, he will likely be put to death.

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