Alabama Clemency: Pardon and Sentence Commutation
Alabama's Clemency Law At-A-Glance
The following section contains a brief summary of Alabama's clemency law. A more detailed description of the state's clemency law follows this section. The Alabama clemency system is essentially comprised of two tiers. The first tier is the Alabama Governor who exercises clemency authority with regards to capital (death) cases. The second tier is the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles ("Board"), which handles clemency for all other state cases, except treason and impeachment. Since Alabama's criminal justice system is primarily based on grants of parole, the forms of clemency or early release that are available in that state consists of pardons, paroles, Alabama commutation of sentence, reprieves, and remissions of fines or forfeitures.
Generally speaking, a pardon is an act of forgiveness which does not wipe out the historical fact of the conviction. In Alabama, a pardon also does not automatically restore a person's civil rights or political privileges, unless the pardon specifically expresses their restoration. Two types of pardons exist in Alabama. The first type is a full pardon, which restores all rights. The second type is a pardon with restrictions, which restores some, but not all, rights.
To be eligible for a pardon, a person must have completed his or her sentence or completed at least three years of permanent parole before filing an application with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. However, a pardon sought on grounds of innocence may be filed earlier, with several restrictions.
Parole is defined as the release of a prisoner before the end of his or her sentence, usually with a requirement that the person report regularly to a parole officer. To be eligible for parole in Alabama, a prisoner must generally have served at least one-third or 10 years of his or her sentence, whichever is the lesser. This does not apply to a prisoner who has been convicted of a serious violent felony or sex offense. A person convicted of one of these types of crimes becomes eligible for parole only after completing eighty-five (85) percent of his or her total sentence or 15 years, whichever is less.
Alabama Commutation of Sentence
The Alabama Governor is vested with the sole authority to commute a prisoner's death sentence to life imprisonment.
Similarly, the Governor has the sole authority to grant a reprieve in a capital case.
A reprieve is the temporary suspension of punishment and is most often granted to stay an execution due to a legal challenge or other meritorious reasons.
Alabama Remission of Fine or Forfeiture
Sometimes the sentencing court will order the defendant to pay a fine or forfeiture. The amount of the fine generally reflects the court's punishment of the person for having committed the crime. A forfeiture is similar to but is not the same as, a fine. The amount of a forfeiture is generally based on the amount of illegal gains the person made from the crime. A person can file an application to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to remit (cancel) a fine or forfeiture (in whole or part).
Alabama Clemency Authority
Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole
Pursuant to an amendment to the state Constitution, the Alabama legislature is vested with clemency power. It created the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles in 1939 to exercise this power. The Board can grant clemency to any state defendant, except a defendant convicted of treason or impeachment, or who was sentenced to death. See Alabama Code, section 15-22-36(a).
By law, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles is composed of three members who are appointed by the Governor upon the advice and consent of the State Senate. The chairperson is designated by the Governor. Each Board member is appointed to serve six-year terms and is a full-time state employee who must take an oath of office, and who is subject to impeachment on the same grounds as other state officials.
The Board must make a full annual report to the Governor.
The Governor, however, retains the sole authority to grant reprieves and to commute the death penalty in capital cases.
In addition, mayors have the authority to pardon defendants who violate municipal ordinances. Pursuant to Alabama Code, section 15-22-70, the mayor of any municipality of the state may appoint a Municipal Parole Board, which can grant parole and other forms of relief for any defendant sentenced in a municipal court.
Eligibility Requirements for Alabama Clemency
In Alabama, a person is eligible to apply for a pardon after he or she has completed his or her sentence or after the completion of three consecutive years of parole. If the person was placed on probation, he or she can apply for a pardon after the completion of the probationary period. There is an exception to this time limitation.
If the person is still serving a sentence or has not yet completed at least three consecutive years of parole, he or she can still apply for a pardon if the person can show by "clear proof" that he or she is innocent of the crime. Moreover, the person must get written approval from the district attorney or the sentencing judge who was involved in the case.
A person convicted of a felony or certain other offenses involving danger to the person must submit to the taking of a DNA sample as a mandatory condition of the pardon.
A unique feature of Alabama's pardon law is that the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles accepts applications from federal offenders and people convicted in other states, who now reside in Alabama. The Board has the authority to restore civil and political rights.
To be eligible for parole, an Alabama state prisoner must generally have served at least one-third or 10 years of his or her sentence, whichever is the lesser. However, a prisoner convicted of one of the following offenses does not become eligible for parole until he or she has completed at least eighty-five (85) percent of his or her total sentence or 15 years, whichever is less:
- Attempted Murder
- Sexual Torture
- Rape I
- Kidnapping I
- Sodomy I
- Robbery with serious physical injury
- Burglary with serious physical injury
- Arson I with serious physical injury
Moreover, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles does not grant parole simply because a prisoner has demonstrated good conduct while in prison. Instead, the Board will grant parole only if it is of the opinion that the prisoner is not a threat to the community and will not violate any laws.
Commutation of Sentence
The Governor has the sole authority to commute an Alabama prisoner's death sentence to a term of life imprisonment. To be eligible, the prisoner must have been convicted of a capital offense, which carries the death penalty. The prisoner should generally have completed the initial judicial (court) appellate review process. Once a death sentence is commuted, however, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles then has the authority to grant parole, but only after the prisoner has completed at least eighty-five (85) percent of his or her total sentence or 15 years, whichever is less.
The Governor also has sole authority to grant a reprieve to an Alabama prisoner in a capital case. In practical terms, this means that the Governor would temporarily halt a scheduled execution while the prisoner exhausts a final legal challenge in the court or presents newly discovered evidence. As with a commutation of sentence, an Alabama prisoner will have generally completed the initial judicial (court) appellate review process before applying for a reprieve.
Remission of Fine or Forfeiture
As mentioned above, a fine is the amount of money the sentencing court orders a defendant to pay as punishment for having committed a crime. Forfeiture, on the other hand, is the amount of money or property obtained from the illegal activity. The judge will order the defendant to forfeit the property or pay the equivalent dollar value. For example, if a drug offender purchased a vehicle with drug money, the court can order the forfeiture of that vehicle or its equivalent dollar value.
A person seeking the remission of a fine or forfeiture is subject to the same eligibility requirements as a person seeking an Alabama pardon.
Regardless of whether the person seeks remission of a fine or forfeiture, the State of Alabama must be a party to the case.
Effects of Alabama Clemency
"A pardon cannot wipe out the historical fact of the conviction ... it involves forgiveness and not forgetfulness." Mason v. State, 103 So.2d 337 (1956). An Alabama state pardon also does not relieve civil and political disabilities unless expressed in the pardon itself.
A person who has forfeited his or her office as a result of a felony conviction is not restored to that particular office by a pardon. Nevertheless, a person may be elected or appointed to office after a conviction, if the pardon specifically restores the person's civil and political rights or it is a full pardon. In fact, that was the question before the Alabama Supreme Court in the case of State ex rel. Sokira v. Burr, 580 So.2d 1340 (1991).
In the case, Burr had been convicted and sentenced to one year and a day in an Alabama state prison. He was subsequently given a full pardon by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. He then ran for mayor.
After he had won the mayoral race, a challenge was filed in court asserting that Burr was barred from holding office. The Alabama Supreme Court disagreed, holding that all of his civil and political rights, including holding office, had been restored by the pardon.
The effect of a pardon is "to relieve the petitioner from all penalties and disabilities attached to the offense ... to exclude him, by reason of that offense, from continuing in the enjoyment of a previously acquired right, is to enforce a punishment for that offense notwithstanding the pardon." Ex parte Garland, 71 U.S. 333,381 (1866).
As was the situation in the Burr case, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles may grant a full pardon, which restores all rights to the person. In addition, the pardoned conviction cannot be used to enhance the person's sentence for any future criminal conviction under Alabama's Habitual Offender Statute. Nor may a person be prosecuted under federal law for possessing a firearm after a felony conviction (Title 18, United States Code, section 922(9)).
However, following the Burr case, the Board has rarely granted full pardons.
Instead, it often grants pardons with restrictions, which restores some, but not all, rights. A person may be granted the right to vote but denied the right to possess a firearm, for instance. Yet the benefits of an Alabama pardon can be immense, including the right to vote, sit on a jury, and even hold public office. Moreover, federal immigration officials cannot rely on a pardoned conviction as the reason for deporting a person from the country.
Lastly, an Alabama pardon can help a person obtain a professional or occupational license.
Parole allows an Alabama prisoner to leave confinement before the end of his or her sentence.
Let's say that a person was given a 9-year sentence in an Alabama state prison. If the person is eligible for parole after having served one-third of that sentence, he or she will only have to serve 3 years before the parole eligibility date. And while a person may be required to report to a parole officer on a regular basis, submit to a search of his or her person or property, and/or perform random urinalysis (UA), he or she is in a much better position on parole than someone who remains stuck behind prison walls.
If a person is granted parole in Alabama, his or her conviction will not be sealed nor expunged. In fact, that person remains under the custody of the Department of Corrections until the maximum sentence date is reached. Nor are the person's political or civil rights restored. However, after successfully completing three years of permanent parole, the person can apply to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles for a pardon.
Moreover, under the Alabama Medical Parole Act (Act 2017-355), a person may be granted medical parole if he or she is eligible for parole, has not been convicted of a capital or sex offense, and has been certified as geriatric, permanently incapacitated, or terminally ill.
Commutation of Sentence
There are two great benefits for the Alabama prisoner who has his or her death sentence commuted by the Governor. The first and most obvious is that the person no longer faces the threat of death. Though the sentence may be commuted to a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, for the average person, this would be preferable to a sentence of death. The second benefit is that in rare instances the death sentence may be reduced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. If so, the person would be eligible for parole after serving either 15 years or 85% of his or her sentence, whichever is less. This was the situation across the nation after the United States Supreme Court handed down two landmark decisions.
In Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), the Court held that juvenile defendants (those who committed their crimes before the age of 18) could not be subjected to the death penalty. In the second case, Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), the Court declared that juveniles could not be sentenced to terms of life imprisonment without parole for non-capital cases. As a result of these rulings, many Governors across the country commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole for a number of death-row inmates, who had committed their crimes before the age of 18.
Though a reprieve is only a temporary suspension of punishment, it can provide the death-row prisoner with an opportunity to put forth legal claims or newly discovered evidence. It may also cause the Governor to reconsider the situation. In April 2014, for instance, after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, the Oklahoma Governor granted a reprieve to another death-row inmate who was scheduled to be executed that same day.
Remission of Fine or Forfeiture
The effect of a remission of a fine or forfeiture is that the court-ordered monetary debt is canceled, either in part or whole.
The Process for Obtaining Clemency in Alabama
To apply for an Alabama pardon, the person may apply by one of the following methods:
- Contact the local State Probation and Parole Office in the area where the person resides;
- Contact the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles by telephone at (334) 353-7771 and ask to speak to the Pardon Unit staff;
- Contact the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles in writing at Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, P.O. Box 302405, Montgomery, AL 36130-2405; or
- Contact the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles electronically at http://www.pardon.state.al.us/aspx.
The request should include all of the following information:
- Name under which the person was convicted
- True name
- Sex and race
- Date of birth
- Social Security Number
- AIS# (Alabama Prison Number), if any
- Current physical address, including the county
- Current mailing address if different from the physical address
- An indication of whether the conviction was state or federal in nature
- Home telephone number, including area code
- Work or alternate telephone number, including area code
- Complete list of convictions, county of convictions and year of convictions
According to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles website, there is a department-approved application form. When the person begins the process, he or she should contact the Board by one of the methods mentioned above and ascertain whether the application form is available. If not, the person can nevertheless begin the process by contacting the Board and providing the requested information.
In addition to the requested information, the person should provide a detailed statement as to why he or she believes the Board should grant the pardon and what effects the pardon will have on the person's life, his or her family's life and well-being, and the community at large. Also, the person should indicate what type of relief he or she is seeking such as a "certificate of eligibility" for the restoration of voting rights, a pardon of a felony conviction, etc.
Once the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles receives the application, it will assign a probation officer to investigate the case, which includes contacting the judge and district attorney in the case. When the investigation is completed, the Board will hold a public meeting on your application. People, such as the prosecutor and victim, who are required by law to be notified will be contacted by the Board and informed about the Alabama pardon application and given an opportunity to appear in person or present their views in writing. Following the public hearing, the Board will make its decision on whether to grant or deny the pardon application.
A prisoner does not apply for parole through the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. Instead, as soon as practicable after the person has been sentenced to prison, the Board prepares a file for the prisoner's case. The case is then assigned to a staff member for processing. An initial parole eligibility date will be determined based on the length of the sentence and other factors. As the prisoner nears the parole eligibility date, he or she will be placed on the Board's docket for a parole hearing. Under the law, the Board will notify the appropriate individuals about the pending parole hearing and offer those individuals an opportunity to present their views. After the hearing has concluded, the Board will make its determination as to whether parole will be granted.
Commutation of Sentence
A person who has been sentenced to death and who seeks to have that sentence commuted, should contact the Alabama Governor's Office. The person must be able to provide the Governor with a detailed, personal statement as to the reasons why the Governor should commute the person's sentence.
As with a person seeking to commute a death sentence, a death-row prisoner who seeks a reprieve should contact the Alabama Governor's Office. The person should be able to provide the Governor with a detailed statement as to why a reprieve should be granted.
For instance, after completing his appeal process and an execution date has been scheduled, a person may have found new evidence that would demonstrate his innocence or at least provide mitigating circumstances. In addition to challenging the case in the court, the person would also seek a reprieve to temporarily halt the scheduled execution.
Remission of Fine or Forfeiture
The process for obtaining a remission of fine or forfeiture in Alabama is similar to that for applying for a pardon (see above).
Generally, the person makes a request to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, making sure to include a short and plain statement of the reasons why the person believes it would be just and fair for the Board to remit some or all of the fine or forfeiture. Once the Board receives the application, it assigns a probation officer to investigate the case. That officer will also contact the sentencing judge and district attorney and request their input into the matter. After the investigation is completed, the Board will have a hearing to consider whether to grant the remission in its entirely, in part or to deny it.
If the Board decides to deny the remission application, the person is prohibited from filing another remission application with regards to the same case in which the remission was denied.