The Governor of New York has the power to grant executive clemency to anyone convicted of violating New York law. Executive clemency is a powerful tool that can immediately undue significant harms caused by wrong convictions or unjust sentences. The Governor can offer pardons, which relieves an individual of the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, or commutations, which shorten the length of an active prison sentence.
Despite this breadth and significance of this power, it has been seldom used in recent history – particularly as it relates to commutation. Between 2006 and 2016, only 15 people were granted commutation, despite many thousands incarcerated beyond what research shows is effective in deterring offenders and, critically, the shockingly high estimated wrongful conviction rate that pervades our justice system.
With so many people serving lengthy and unnecessary sentences, and even more New Yorkers struggling with the collateral consequences of a conviction, the low rate of clemency is troubling and a wasted tool. NYUJ urges the increased use of executive clemency to help New Yorkers rebuild their lives and reduce the injustices and unfairness of our prison system.