It is very common for people who have been convicted of a crime to pursue an appeal or personal restraint petition. The sad truth, however, is that such post-conviction remedies are not always successful. For people who have had their appeal or personal restraint petition rejected, it can often feel like the end of the road. But fortunately, it's not. Washington allows for executive clemency—pardons, commutations, and extraordinary release—through the Clemency & Pardons Board (“Board”). The Washington State Constitution, Article III, Section 9, gives the Governor the authority to grant pardons, along with RCW 10.01.120 and RCW 9.94A.728(1)(g). The latter statute also gives the Governor authority to grant extraordinary release from confinement “for reasons of serious health problems, senility, advanced age, extraordinary meritorious acts, or other extraordinary circumstances.” RCW 9.94A.728(1)(d).
Although the Governor personally makes all final decisions on executive clemency, the Office of the Governor has created the Board to review clemency petitions, pursuant to RCW 9.94A.880 and RCW 9.94A.885. The Board's job is to “receive Petitions from individuals, the Department of Corrections, and organizations for commutation of sentences and pardons of offenders' convictions,” and to then “make recommendations on those Petitions to the Governor.” (Washington State Clemency & Pardons Board Policy Manual (“Policy Manual”), at 1); RCW 9.94A.885(1). In determining whether to recommend clemency, the Board looks for “extraordinary” circumstances pursuant to RCW 9.94A.728(1)(d) and RCW 9.94A.885(1). Although Washington law does not define the term “extraordinary” circumstances, the Board tends to consider factors such as:
- The seriousness of the offense;
- The impact on the victims;
- Whether there is a significant and documented need for clemency;
- Acceptance of responsibility, remorse, and atonement;
- Personal development and positive life changes since the offense occurred;
- The offender's criminal history and other relevant background;
- Whether the individual has complied with all obligations imposed by the court;
- The amount of time elapsed since the offense occurred; and
- The risk or benefit to the community.
(Policy Manual, at 2–3).
The Board considers clemency petitions at regularly scheduled quarterly hearings. (Policy Manual, at 4). Such hearings are open to the public, have a court reporter, and involve the presentation of oral argument and other statements to the Board. (Policy Manual, at 4–5). Critically, however, not every clemency petition will receive an actual hearing before the Board! Only those selected by the Preliminary Review Committee will actually receive a hearing. (Attorney General Letter, at 1; Policy Manual, at 3). In deciding whether to grant a full hearing, the Preliminary Review Committee considers the same factors listed above.
It is thus of the utmost importance to retain qualified legal counsel who can ensure that you put your best foot forward when making your initial case to the Preliminary Review Committee. The lawyers of Tomlinson Bomsztyk Russ have extensive experience with the criminal justice system, and stand ready to assist you in this important task. Don't leave your clemency petition up to chance. Call Tomlinson Bomsztyk Russ today.