How to write a Clemency Letter – Clemency Letter sample with Example Explained

Every individual who desires clemency must petition either the President or the governor of their state through the vehicle of a clemency letter. This letter can be the most important document these individuals will ever write.We shall discuss how to write a Clemency letter for inmate required during clemency application process. A Clemency letter example in also available at the end of the article. While writing its crucial to understand the entire petition clemency process.This clemency letter sample will guide you to create more effective voice and plan accordingly.


The clemency letter is more than a letter. Petitioning clemency to either the President or a state governor now requires an individual to fill out a form. These forms are relatively short in length, depending on what the petitioner is seeking. The President of the United States can only grant clemency for federal crimes while state governors handle state crimes.

Federal crimes follow a specific process that can all be found relatively easy on the Department of Justice website. The Office of the Pardon Attorney handles all clemency petitions (which are also known as clemency letter). The website is easily laid out and contains instructions for petitioners. Many times, a person petitioning for clemency is either a person currently incarcerated or does not possess the funds for an attorney to assist them through the process. These instructions lay out the requirements for commutations of sentences and pardons for federal crimes.

A person asking for a commutation of a sentence of a federal crime must fill out a six-page application form. Often this application is also known as a clemency letter. The petitioner must specify what conviction they are seeking a commutation for if they have more than one. The petitioner must state if any appeals are outstanding. A commutation of a sentence will not be rendered if an individual is still working through the appeals process. The form asks for a detailed account of the offense and the involvement of the individual. The application then requires the individual to list their full criminal record. Finally, the application asks why the individual is seeking clemency.


The most important aspect of the clemency letter, or application, is where the petitioner gets to explain why they are seeking clemency. Here, the petitioner has the chance to explain their circumstance and why they deserve a commutation of a sentence. It is helpful to read clemency letter examples to see how this section can sway whether or not the Office of the Pardon Attorney refers the case for clemency to the President.

One example is that of Jason Hernandez. Take a look at his Clemency letter sample by visiting here. Hernandez was facing life in prison for dealing drugs. He filled out a clemency application form for commutation of sentence from President Obama. Hernandez was not an average inmate. He studied law during his incarceration through the vehicle of paralegal courses. He read judges’ opinions and understood the controversy over skewed sentencing guidelines for drug crimes. Hernandez wrote his application for clemency by focusing that he was a nonviolent offender. His crime did not involve gangs or guns. He was directly affected by the historical tendency for those who dealt powder cocaine, not crack cocaine, to receive much lighter sentences. It is widely agreed that these past drug sentencing guidelines affected minorities disproportionately.

A form for commutation allows for supplemental documents to be attached to the clemency application to bolster one’s case. Hernandez utilized this. He attached letters of support, including those from police officers. He attached examples of his rehabilitative and educational programs that he took while in prison. He described the mentorship program he was in and the good marks he received during prisoner reviews. He addressed his clemency form directly to President Obama.

Hernandez was one of the individuals who received a commuted sentence from President Obama. While the clemency process is not easy and nothing is guaranteed, Hernandez was able to do all this from prison with limited resources. His clemency letter clearly played a significant part in his successful outcome.


An application for a pardon is measurably different. The reason lies in the type of clemency that an individual is seeking. Commutation is a reduction of a sentence of someone who is already in prison. A pardon is requested by someone who has already served their time. It is not an act of mercy, but of forgiveness. A pardon holds the connotation that the original sentence was inherently wrong to begin with or substantially unfair under the circumstances.

The pardon application for a federal crime is 28 pages, which also includes the instructions for the form. Much of the information is similar to the application for commutation. The form asks for the offenses one wants pardoned, the factual circumstances and the involvement of the petitioner, and if the petitioner retained an attorney.

The pardon application however is a bit more in-depth than the commutation. The form wants biographical information including whether or not the petitioner is married, has children, schools attended, employment history, residential history, mental health information and substance abuse history, and financial information.

There is a waiting period for pardons. A person seeking a pardon must wait five years from the day the petitioner was released from confinement. This is to ensure, according to the Justice Department website, that the petitioner has a reasonable time to show their ability to live a responsible and law-abiding life.

The most important part is the narrative section asking why a person is seeking a pardon. This is very similar to the clemency letter's personal discussion section which is explained below in the clemency letter sample. The instructions indicate a reminder that a pardon is a sign of forgiveness, not vindication. Therefore, the narrative should be more about what a person has done that contrasts the crime for which they were convicted.The pardon application is in-depth. It wants to know less about the circumstances of the crime, like a commutation, but more about the petitioner and what their character reflects. This is why the pardon application also requires three character affidavits from individuals who know the petitioner well and will be able to attest to their character.


Each state has its own requirements for petitioning for clemency. All clemency letters are directed towards the governor of the respective state, but each state is different on the procedures required for the letter. Kansas requires that a copy of the petitioner’s Notice of Clemency Application-Sentencing Form be sent to the judge, prosecuting attorney, sheriff, and police chief located within the county of the petitioner’s conviction. A petitioner must also fill out a Request for Publication Form and an Application for Clemency. Clemency is granted by the governor, but petitioners are reviewed by the Prisoner Review Board who gives a recommendation to the governor.

Colorado provides another example. There, a petitioner must fill out an Executive Clemency Application. A case manager is assigned and assists the petitioner through the Executive Clemency Advisory Board Eligibility Criteria and offers guidance for filling out the application and obtaining the appropriate documents. The Colorado Department of Offender Services reviews the petition and then sends it to the Director of Executive Clemency. This Director heads the Executive Clemency Advisory Board and forwards recommendations to the governor if they deem them to be worthy.

Clemency letters are essential in providing the decision-makers the ability to determine if the petitioner should receive clemency. While the process is fairly simple, the letter holds enormous power and should be undertaken seriously.

Important Elements of the Clemency Letter

As noted above, the phrase ‘clemency letter’ is shorthand for the whole application that a petitioner must complete to request some type of clemency. However, as also noted, the most important part of that application, regardless of whether it is a request for a commutation of sentence or a pardon, is the section that allows the petitioner to explain in their own words why they are deserving of clemency.That is what these next sections are going to cover.For purposes of those sections, we will refer to that particular explanation section as the “clemency letter” for a inmate.

Accordingly, if you are looking for things to consider while writing a clemency letter to the president or governor, let us discuss the elements that should be common to any clemency letter.

  • Audience :The first thing to keep in mind when writing a clemency letter is remember your audience.You are not writing to a friend or family member.Rather, you are writing to the chief executive of either the federal government or your state government, i.e., the president of the United States, or your state’s governor.As such, your writing should have the same deference that you would use if you had the opportunity to speak to the highest ranking public official in person. You would not be informal, casual, or long-winded with a president or governor. Your Clemency letter should match the same approach.
  • Tone :As with ‘knowing your audience,’ great care should be taken to remember the overall tone of your clemency letter. Indeed, this letter is, at its essence, a plea for mercy, for a second chance.While you do not want to project desperation, you want your posture to be one of remorse for your past mistakes. One important facet in any clemency decision is whether the petitioner takes responsibility for his or her actions.Showing remorse, showing an understanding of how your actions were detrimental to others, and showing a true sense of appreciation for why your past actions were wrong will give the president or governor a solid reason why you are deserving of clemency.
  • Lessons Learned and Looking to the Future : While taking responsibility for your actions is essential, just as essential for your clemency letter is an optimism about the future.You need to explain how you have learned from your mistakes, how you have taken tangible steps to improve your life, and how you are certain that you will continue to make amends in the future.
  • Format and Structure.Finally, you cannot forget to make sure that you letter is as neat and error free as possible.This is an important plea for forgiveness, so be sure that you show the reader that you are taking great care that the letter be as perfect as possible.

Clemency Letter Template

There are many ways to organize a clemency letter. So, please do not feel that you have to adhere to this particular clemency letter template. But, you may want to use this structure as a jumping off point from clemency letter template to a personalized clemency letter that speaks more about yourself.

  • Heading information. As with any letter, you want to make sure that you address the letter properly, with a date, then the address of the president or governor, and then a subject line with something like “Letter of [your name] in Support of His Petition for [Commutation of Sentence/Pardon].”
  • Greeting. Again, as with any letter, “Dear Mr. President,” or “Dear Governor [name],” is entirely appropriate.
  • Introduction. The first paragraph is normally where you introduce yourself, and where you explain why you are writing.Something like “My name is _____, and I am writing to respectfully request that you find it in your heart to grant my request for clemency,” or something to that affect.
  • Details about your case. You may then want to discuss the reason why you are in prison (when asking for a commutation), or why you are asking for clemency at this point in time (when asking for a pardon).
  • Acknowledge your wrongdoing. Next, you should discuss why you think your past actions were wrong, and what you have done to turn yourself around.
  • List other reasons. You should then continue with a list of all of the reasons why you think clemency is deserved in your case.Did you go into counseling ? Receive treatment ? Take GED classes, or obtain an advanced degree ? Does a family member need your assistance? In short, any reason that justifies your request will help your case.
  • Hope for the future. You then may want to close on a positive note.You may want to express how meaningful a second chance would be, and what good things you will do with that second chance.
  • Thank for consideration. Do not forget to thank the person for taking the time to consider your clemency petition.
  • Closing. You can end with “Sincerely, [your name]” and your address.

This is a overall structure of a clemency letter template. However, you can write on the topics which shows that you are a changed individual now, more of a statement of purpose. Apart from the template you can take a look here for another clemency letter sample. If you have any queries related to clemency letter sample you can contact our office for a free consultation.

Clemency Sample

One great way to get writing is to follow a clemency letter example. Accordingly, the clemency letter sample below (a letter to the president of the United States requesting a commutation of sentence), might get your juices flowing if you are writing the letter yourself. Remember that this is just a guide. Be sure to make the clemency letter your own. This clemency sample letter is for reference purpose only. You need to modify it depending on your criminal charges and other factors associated with it.

Clemency Sample letter

October 30, 2019

President of the United States

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500


Dear Mr. President,

Hello.My name is John Doe, and I am writing to you to respectfully request that you consider my petition for a commutation of my sentence.I was convicted of possession of heroin with the intent to distribute 13 years ago, and I am currently serving a sentence of life in prison.

Having matured and learned a great deal over the last 13 years, I now know how my actions of selling drugs in my neighborhood have hurt others.I am a very different person that the person I was all those years ago.I appreciate that addictive drugs destroy people and destroy families.I am deeply sorry for my actions that led to harm for others. 

Knowing that, I understand why I needed to go to prison.I acknowledge that I deserve to be punished for my conduct.But, again, I am no longer the young kid I was all those years ago.Since my incarceration, I have gotten treatment for my own mental health issues and for my addiction.I also obtained a GED in my time in prison.Currently, I am taking law classes so maybe someday I can use my knowledge to help others. 

I do not know how long I should stay in prison for my past offenses, but I am hopeful that one day, I will get a second chance at life.With that second chance, I know that I will not waste it.I dream that I will have a chance to provide help to those suffering from addiction.I want to counsel young people not to make the choices I made.My only hope is that someday I will be able to help others in that way.

Thank you for your time and consideration.I ask for forgiveness, and I ask for the chance to make life better for others.I hope, after reading my petition, that you will decide that I deserve a second chance. 


John Doe

Clemency letter sample above is a outline for person's character and self-improvement during the prison rehabilitation's process.This may vary from person to person.

How Do I Write a Clemency Letter for a Friend?

Given all of the above, you should have a good start on the structure and style of a clemency letter. So, if you are writing a clemency letter for inmate, a friend, or a fellow inmate, the above information is instrumental in completing the letter.

There are only two main difference between writing a clemency letter for a friend rather than yourself. The first difference is information gathering. You need to take a little time to talk with your friend about what information will be helpful in showing that clemency is deserved. So, you need to ensure that you have a good list of reasons why you think that a person should be granted clemency.

The second difference is explaining your role in writing the clemency letter. When introducing yourself in the letter, you need to explain what you do, what your relationship is to the petitioner, and why you think he or she is deserving of clemency.

Can I Write a Clemency Letter to the Governor for Federal Crimes?

Unfortunately, the governor of your state does not have the jurisdiction to make decisions about clemency related to federal crimes.The person with jurisdiction over clemency for federal offenses is the president of the United States. Conversely, the person with jurisdiction over clemency for state offenses is the governor of the state in which you committed the crime. So, before even beginning the clemency process, be sure you know to whom, the president or the governor, you should be directing your clemency application.

About Brandon Sample

Brandon Sample is an attorney, author, and criminal justice reform activist. Brandon’s law practice is focused on federal criminal defense, federal appeals, federal post-conviction relief, federal civil rights litigation, federal administrative law, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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