California Landmark Cases on Executive Clemency

California Constitution, article V, section 8, subdivision (a), provides: "Subject to application procedures provided by statute ( 4800-4813), the Governor, on conditions the Governor deems proper, may grant a reprieve, pardon, and commutation, after sentence, except in case of impeachment. The Governor shall report to the Legislature each reprieve, pardon, and commutation granted, stating the pertinent facts and the reasons for granting it. The Governor may not grant a pardon or commutation to a person twice convicted of a felony except on recommendation of the Supreme Court, 4 judges concurring." Commutation is a reduction in punishment; a pardon is the remission of guilt and relief from the legal consequences of the crime; and a reprieve is a temporary suspension of execution of sentence. ( 4853 pardon; Way v. Superior Court of San Diego County (1977) 74 Cal.App.3d 165 (Way).) Consistent with the separation of powers principle (Cal. Const., art. III, 3), "'pardon and commutation decisions have not traditionally been the business of courts ...'" and are "'rarely, if ever,'" appropriate subjects for judicial review. (Ohio Adult Parole Authority v. Woodard (1998) 523 U.S. 272, 276 (Ohio Adult Parole Authority).) The legislative branch cannot curtail the executive branch's constitutional clemency power but can regulate the application and investigation process. (Ibid.; see In re Rosenkrantz (2002) 29 Cal.4th 616, 663 noting, in case involving Governor's authority to review parole board decision, that clemency power in California's Constitution is similar to the provision addressed in Ohio Adult Parole Authority.) The constitutionally authorized "application procedures" for executive clemency (Cal. Const., art. V, 8, subd. (a)) are found in Penal Code sections 4800 to 4813. "The general authority to grant reprieves, pardons and commutations of sentence is conferred upon the Governor by Section 8 of Article V of the Constitution of the State of California." ( 4800.) The Board of Parole Hearings may report to the Governor the names of prisoners who, in the board's judgment, ought to be pardoned or have a commutation of sentence. ( 4801.) "In the case of a person twice convicted of felony (not at issue here), the application for pardon or commutation of sentence shall be made directly to the Governor, who shall transmit all papers and documents relied upon in support of and in opposition to the application to the Board of Parole Hearings." ( 4802.) When a criminal applies to the Governor for "pardon or commutation," the Governor may ask the trial court for a factual summary of the crimes and a recommendation for or against the grant of clemency. ( 4803.) "Every application for pardon or commutation of sentence shall be accompanied by a full statement of any compensation being paid to any person for procuring or assisting in procuring the pardon or commutation or the pardon or commutation shall be denied." ( 4807.2.) The Governor shall report to the Legislature each grant of "reprieve, pardon, or commutation." ( 4807, subd. (a).) The Governor may request the board to investigate and report on clemency applications. ( 4812.) Additionally, section 4804, enacted in 1941 (Stats. 1941, ch. 106, 15, pp. 1083, 1127-1128), provides that, except where death or sentence expiration is imminent ( 4806): "At least 10 days before the Governor acts upon an application for a pardon, written notice of the intention to apply therefor, signed by the person applying, must be served upon the district attorney of the county where the conviction was had, and proof, by affidavit, of the service must be presented to the Governor" ( 4804, italics added). This statute refers only to "pardon," while the surrounding statutes all refer to "pardon or commutation." (See 4800-4812.)