Those who have been imprisoned, due to crimes committed in California, have a few options regarding the future of their prison time and guilty verdict. Inmates should consult with their lawyer whether a petition for clemency can, and should, be made. However, not all wish to seek clemency, as other options may be better suited to them. Clemency is not just one particular act; it includes commutations, pardons, and reprieves. What is common to each one of these is that a convicted individual’s criminal record is not expunged – the guilty verdict remains on file.
The commutation of a sentence means that the sentence is reduced. For example, Bernie Madoff (who ran the largest Ponzi Scheme in history) recently asked President Trump for a commutation of his sentence. Madoff had been sentenced to 150 years in prison, which would make him over 200 years old once he gets released, and instead has petitioned to reduce that sentence. The petition is still considered to be pending by the federal government. For those convicted in California, the governor can commute a sentence, but not if the crime had been a military one, federal, or of another US state/foreign country.
A reprieve, which is also called a stay of execution, temporarily removes the imposition of a sentence. This does not mean the convicted individual will no longer serve any sentence, but rather that the current one cannot be imposed due to a variety of reasons. If new evidence were to be found or if the legal judgment of the court was not sound, the court can order a stay of execution. A pardon, on the other hand, occurs when the governor (or president for federal crimes) forgives a sentence. The guilty verdict and criminal record remain, but the individual no longer has to serve the rest of the sentence. It is important to speak with an experienced lawyer prior to moving forward with any of the above petitions.