Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What is a pardon? A primer in the Michigan law of pardons and parole

What is a pardon under Michigan law?

A pardon is a decision by the governor (but see below) to make a prisoner's conviction essentially disappear.

A pardon will "erase" the crime alleged to have been committed by the prisoner.

What is the parole procedure like? 
Michigan's Parole Board, part of the Department of Corrections, oversees parole. The Parole Board will generally review a prisoner's file about 5-7 months before the end of a prisoner's minimum sentence to see if he or she will be considered for parole. For example, if a prisoner was sentenced to 5-15 years, then that prisoner needs to have served around 4 years and a few months before the parole board will consider him or her for parole. If there are no concerns about the prisoner's behavior (like misconduct while serving their sentence), the parole board will make a report in advance, and parole review will begin. If any additional conditions are made (like drug treatment) on parole, the prisoner will need to successfully complete those conditions before parole begins.

Parole is  very similar to being "out on bond" before a trial: there are conditions attached to parole (like drug testing, reporting for parole, remaining at work, not re-offending). If the conditions are not met, parole can be revoked, and a prisoner will have to continue to serve his or her sentence. More information about the parole process can be found here.

How does one request a pardon? 
The Parole board also oversees pardon requests. Although the Governor (under executive power granted to that office under the Michigan constitution) gets to make the final decision, the process will go like this:
1. the prisoner (or another on his/her behalf) will write a pardon request.
2. the Parole Board will review that request.
3. the Parole Board will then write a report and submit it with the request to the governor's office.
4. Before the governor's decision, the sentencing judge will also have a chance to state an opinion about the pardon.
5. The pardon request will either be granted or denied.
A pardon application (for current prisoners only) can be found here.  But if a prisoner is seeking a pardon after being paroled, he or she should follow these instructions.

What is the difference between a pardon and a commutation? 
Pardons will erase the conviction. With a commutation of sentence /request for clemency, the conviction still stands, but for other reasons the prisoner is not completing his or her sentence.

Are they subject to the same process?

Who can write a pardon request/ commutation request?
The request can be made by the prisoner, a family member, an attorney hired by the prisoner or family member, or a medical doctor who has seen the prisoner, and feels that he or she should be released due to a medical condition.

Are they any alternatives to the pardon request?
Yes, though this depends on a few things.
1. A criminal appeal could be tried if the case is one that is eligible for appeal. (See Michigan Court Rule 6.433).
2. A motion for relief from judgment is another alternative (under Michigan Court Rule 6.502). This motion goes before the judge who sentenced the defendant. 

Is it possible to get a "time cut" on a sentence, anyway? 
Maybe not. Read this article. *(More updates to follow).

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