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Newsom’s Commutation / Clemency Application: How to Apply

This article is presented because the commutation application process under Governor Newsom is slightly different than his predecessor, Governor Brown.  It is critical that one submit one’s request for executive clemency (another word for commutation) to modify or end one sentence using only the correct form.

We suggest that anyone seeking a commutation who has not requested one in the last three years simply write the Governor’s office and request the application so that one is assured of submitting the correct application and not one that may be available (but outdated) online.  The address to the Governor’s office is:

Governor Gavin Newsom
Attn: Clemency / Legal Affairs
State Capital, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA  95814

If one has applied for a pardon in the past three years, one must simply submit a “Re-Application for Commutation and Pardon” form to “re-open” the request.  If more than three years has passed, one should submit a commutation application following the new form and with all information and documentation that person wants the Governor to consider.  It is important to include the case number (also called a log number or file number) assigned in the prior commutation request if one was received.  It is also important to note if one was previously interviewed as part of the process.

If someone is in prison, he or she can apply for a commutation.  There is no limit to how long one must serve before being eligible for a commutation.  One may also apply despite having an active appeal pending (or petition for writ of habeas corpus), however, it must be disclosed on the commutation application that one has a pending appeal, which can become a potential problem if one is claiming actual innocence while, in a commutation, it is expected that one demonstrates taking full responsibility for committing the crime.  We understand that in interviews for commutations, this has been recently brought up to confront the applicant on his or her honesty and credibility.

As to actually answering the four main question on the commutation application, the following suggestions should be considered.

On Question 1, wherein the application asks that one state his or her conviction summary, keep in mind that the Governor’s Office will have a complete criminal history already.  This question only asks that the applicant list the conviction(s) for which one is seeking a commutation of the sentence.  The conviction(s) should be listed by the Penal Code, Health & Safety Code or Vehicle Code by section number, the date of the conviction, the county of conviction and the sentence imposed.  The applicant should not offer any explanation of the crime beyond this basis information.

In answering Question 2, wherein the applicant is asked to describe the circumstances of the crime, the key to a good answer is brevity.  A few sentences are appropriate.  However, if one is maintaining one’s innocence insofar as any particular offense, it is appropriate to simply state, for example “As to a violation of Penal Code § 211, I maintain my innocence of this crime.”  Nothing more is needed to be added.  

If one did commit the crime(s) at age 25 or under, it is good to state in response to this question whether you had a history of addiction in your family, if you were suffering from any addiction(s) at the time (and of what substance, i.e., alcohol and / or controlled substances), if you suffered from domestic or sexual violation, if you were homeless or in a neglectful home in the child welfare system, and if you believe your commission of the crime was influenced by your economic status, gender, race or any other recognized disability.  It is best to keep the answer short, as one may have the opportunity to later discuss this more in an interview.

As to Question 3, which asks how a commutation would impact the applicant’s life, it is recommended that one explain how commutation would be an opportunity for one to work in some specific capacity (and if so, specifics are helpful), reunite with family and share wisdom or lessons learned from rehabilitative efforts in custody, to “break the cycle” of violence or abuse in the home or family (if applicable), overcome addiction (if applicable) and to care for other family members.  

If one takes full responsibility for the crime of conviction, it is smart to explain that commutation will not end the remorse and accountability one feels for the crime or sympathy for the victims of the harm one caused.

If one has an LWOP sentence and one is requesting commutation to life (with the possibility of parole), one should state that commutation will provide the applicant an opportunity to appear before the Board of Parole Hearings to demonstrate one’s growth, maturation, accomplishments while imprisoned and preparedness for release.  

As to answering Question 4, in describing one’s life since the conviction, it is encouraged to explain how, if true, one has changed the way he or she thinks, reacts to situations and treats others.  It is good to describe what programs helped bring about this change, including church or other educational programs and how one will guard against recidivism once released.

For more information about clemency and commutation of a sentence, please click on the following articles:
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