Pardons, Reprieves, Commutations and Respites
How Do These Releases Differ?
As in most states, the Governor has the authority to alter the sentence of a person who has been convicted under state law during that person's incarceration in a state, regional or county detention facility, after they have been released on parole, or even after the sentence has been served completely.
In West Virginia, the authority is established in the Constitution, Article VII, Section 11:
||"The Governor shall have power to remit fines and penalties in such cases and under such regulations as may be prescribed by law; to commute capital punishment and, except where the prosecution has been carried on by the house of delegates, to grant reprieves and pardons after conviction; but he shall communicate to the legislature at each session the particulars of every case of fine or penalty remitted, of punishment commuted and of reprieve or pardon granted, with his reasons therefor."
Different orders are used, depending on the specific effect on the sentence which is intended. These documents are permanently recorded with the Secretary of State and entered into the Executive Journal.
A pardon is given to release a person from the remainder of the sentence. The document issuing the pardon may characterize the pardon as "full and complete" or "conditional." Full and complete pardons are permanent, and are not issued frequently -- only 121 in the 36 years covering nine governor's terms. Conditional pardons are slightly more common, 200 in 36 years, because the person pardoned remains under the supervision of the Division of Corrections, and if the conditions are violated, the person may be immediately returned to custody. The conditions usually include remaining in the State, and violating no criminal laws. When a conditional pardon is violated and a person is returned to prison, the term of the sentence resumes from the time served prior to release.
A reprieve may be given to postpone the beginning of incarceration or shorten the period of incarceration, perhaps due to extenuating circumstances or even overcrowded facilities. These are the most common of these actions by the Governor, with 641 having been granted over the 36 years of data maintained. A recission of reprieve withdraws the reprieve.
A commutation shortens the total term of the sentence, and is usually issued when the individual has demonstrated good behavior and a likelihood of full rehabilitation. An example would be commutation of a life sentence to a specific number of years. A form of statutory commutation has also been created to deduct time from the sentence for "good time" served. This commutation is determined by the commissioner of corrections, rather than the Governor.
A respite is a temporary release, usually for reasons of medical treatment or recuperation. The period of respite may or may not count toward serving the term of the sentence. The Governor may issue an order of executive clemency to apply the period of medical respite to the period of the sentence.
Several sections of West Virginia Code ( §5-1-16a, §62-12-13, §28-5-27 ) refer to pardons and other clemency orders. The law relating to the "expungement" of a criminal record following a pardon, which essentially serves to make confidential any court records relating to an individual's conviction in a case, has been the subject of debate. However, West Virginia law still allows persons who receive a full and complete pardon to apply to the courts for expungement of the record. To search other parts of the Code, visit the Legislature's web site and select WV Code.
Requesting Information and Copies of Pardons
The Secretary of State is often asked to certify whether or not a pardon or reprieve was given to a particular person, usually for a matter pending before the court. Individuals can get information, plain copies or certified copies of pardons, reprieves or respites. Usually, these documents issued since 1965 can be located by giving the name of the person and the date of the crime or the pardon. Older documents can be located if the pardon date is known, since they are indexed only in the Executive Journal.
||To request information by e-mail about whether a pardon is on file, click the icon. Requests which require an extensive search of older records may be subject to search fees.